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For Immediate Release, June 14, 2013

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190,

Extinction of Butterflies Highlights Importance of Endangered Species Act Protection

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— News this week of the likely extinction of two South Florida butterflies that were never awarded Endangered Species Act protection highlights the crucial importance of giving rare species protection under the Act. Florida Zestos and rockland grass skippers, which were never considered for Endangered Species Act listing, have now been declared officially extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and might well not be extinct today had they been granted the Act’s protection.

The Endangered Species Act is now 40 years old and has stopped 99 percent of the plants and animals it protects from going extinct.

“We didn’t have to lose these two butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their extinction is a stark reminder that the ability of the Endangered Species Act to save species is limited only by our choice to use it. Let’s make sure we don’t make the same mistake with the rest of South Florida’s unique and threatened species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service found that the butterflies likely went extinct due to habitat loss; it compared the downward trajectory of the Zestos to a currently protected species, the Miami blue butterfly, which is losing habitat and host plants due to sea-level rise. Like the Zestos, many South Florida species are threatened by coastal squeeze, where coastal development prevents species’ landward retreat from rising sea levels cause by climate change.

Fish and Wildlife recently proposed Endangered Species Act protection for other Florida species — three Florida plants (aboriginal prickly apple, Florida semaphore cactus and Cape Sable thoroughwort) and the Florida bonneted bat — all threatened by sea-level rise. The proposal to protect those species was part of a historic settlement agreement between the Service and the Center for Biological Diversity that requires expedited decisions on protection for 757 species around the country, including for 374 species in the Southeast.

“The important thing about our agreement with the Service is that requires the agency to follow the law and make decisions about protecting imperiled species before it’s too late for those species,” Lopez said. “We can do better for Florida’s animals and plants, and the 757 agreement is already helping. The loss of these two butterflies drives home the point: Once these animals are lost, they’re lost forever.”

Other Florida animals threatened by sea-level rise that are currently awaiting Endangered Species Act listing include:

  • The MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow, which once ranged south from North Carolina into Florida’s Volusia County but has not been spotted south of Duval County in Florida in years. The sparrow is one of four seaside sparrows remaining in Florida. Since the dusky seaside sparrow was declared extinct in 1987, the MacGillivray’s represents the southernmost Atlantic subspecies.
  • The Florida Keys mole skink is a tiny, colorful lizard found mainly along the sandy shoreline of Dry Tortugas and the Lower Keys, though it may also occur among other Florida Keys. It was once locally common, but its population has declined up to 30 percent, and the lizard is now considered rare. It’s also the southernmost subspecies of its species, precariously dependent on suitable sandy shoreline habitat.
  • The black rail is a secretive, rarely encountered migratory bird that can be found throughout Florida. Because it nests in salt and freshwater marshes, water depth and quality are critical.
  • The Palatka skipper is a small, brown butterfly found in the Keys. Its habitat is diminishing, and only 10 adults have been sighted since 2006.

Learn more about our campaign to stop the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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