Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 30, 2015

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Two Prairie Butterflies Gain More Than 45,000 Acres of Protected Critical Habitat in
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Dakotas

MINNEAPOLIS— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized critical habitat protection for two rare prairie butterflies in six midwestern and Great Lakes states. The Dakota skipper is gaining 19,903 acres of protected habitat in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota; the Poweshiek skipperling is gaining 25,888 acres of habitat protection in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. The inch-long orange and brown butterflies were protected under the Endangered Species Act in October 2014 due to widespread loss of the native prairie habitats they depend on for survival.

Dakota skipper
Dakota skipper photo by Robert Dana, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“Endangered Species Act protection with designated critical habitat is the best way to make sure that species are not lost to extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s good news that these beautiful prairie butterflies now have the protection that will ensure they survive for generations to come.”

Protection for the Dakota skipper resulted from a landmark 2011 settlement between the Center and the Service to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. The Dakota skipper has been lost from 65 percent of its historical range and was listed as threatened with a special rule that facilitates agricultural activities in its habitat. The Service added the Poweshiek skipperling to the listing rule because it shares habitat with the Dakota skipper and is no longer being found in 95 percent of its historic range. Simultaneously protecting species with shared habitats is a more efficient use of agency resources than developing listing proposals individually.

Both butterflies are threatened by loss of native prairie vegetation to agriculture, development, altered fire patterns and groundwater depletion. They are also threatened by pesticides, drought and climate change. Today’s critical habitat designation includes both native prairie habitats and dispersal corridors to connect the remnant patches of prairie.

“Protecting high-quality prairie habitats for the butterflies will keep these special places safe and will also benefit many other imperiled species that need native prairie habitat to survive,” said Curry.

The Dakota skipper is a small butterfly with hooked antennae and a thick, muscular body that enables a faster, more powerful flight than other butterflies. Males are tawny-orange to brown on the back of their wings and dusty yellow-orange on the underside; females are darker with diffused orange and white spots. They once occurred in tall-grass and mixed-grass prairies of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They have been lost from Illinois and Iowa and in the United States are currently found only in western Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota and the eastern half of North Dakota. The butterfly was last seen in Illinois in 1888 and in Iowa in 1992.

Poweshiek skipperlings are small and slender-bodied. Their wings are dark brown with an orange band on top and whitish underneath. Skipperlings were once common and abundant throughout native prairies in eight states and Manitoba; this skipperling has been lost from Illinois and Indiana and was last seen in North Dakota in 2001, in Minnesota in 2007, and in Iowa and South Dakota in 2008. Small numbers survive in Michigan, Wisconsin and Manitoba.

The Dakota skipper was first identified as being in need of protection in 1978. The Service placed the Poweshiek skipperling on the candidate list in 2011.

In 2011 the Center and Service reached a settlement to speed protections for all the species on the candidate waiting list as of 2010, as well as a host of other species previously petitioned for protection. To date 149 plants and animals have received protection as a result of the agreement, and another 66 have been proposed for protection.

In total, for the Dakota skipper the Service is protecting approximately 19,903 acres of habitat in Chippewa, Clay, Kittson, Lincoln, Murray, Norman, Pipestone, Polk, Pope and Swift counties in Minnesota; McHenry, McKenzie, Ransom, Richland and Rolette counties in North Dakota; and Brookings, Day, Deuel, Grant, Marshall and Roberts counties in South Dakota.

For the Poweshiek skipperling, the Service is protecting approximately 25,888 acres of habitat in Cerro Gordo, Dickinson, Emmet, Howard, Kossuth and Osceola counties, Iowa; Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw counties in Michigan; Chippewa, Clay, Cottonwood, Douglas, Kittson, Lac Qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, Mahnomen, Murray, Norman, Pipestone, Polk, Pope, Swift and Wilkin counties in Minnesota; Richland County, North Dakota; Brookings, Day, Deuel, Grant, Marshall, Moody and Roberts counties in South Dakota; and Green Lake and Waukesha counties in Wisconsin.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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