The Sand Mountain Blue butterfly is small, with a wingspan of slightly less than one inch across when fully spread. It is a highly geographically restricted subspecies that only lives at SandMountain , in the Great BasinDesert of Nevada. Sand Mountain’s small size, lack of protective restrictions, and relative closeness to cities in Nevada and California make the area a mecca for off-roaders. Sand Mountain Blue butterflies are closely linked to Kearney buckwheat, their larval host plant, throughout their life. Kearney buckwheat was once pervasive on the dunes of Sand Mountain, but has suffered from habitat destruction and modification by extensive off-road vehicle use over the past three decades.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) runs Sand Mountain as the Sand Mountain Recreation Area (SMRA), which consists of 4,795 acres of public land open to unrestricted off-road vehicle use. Sand Mountain is sacred to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and has been used for centuries by the spiritual people of Great Basin Tribes. However, since the invention of off-road vehicles, Sand Mountain has seen a drastic change in the number of visitors and their recreational use of the land. Motorized recreation today accounts for over 90% of the total visits to the area. From 1993-2003 the BLM has seen a 25% increase in visitor use at the recreation area, and they expect use to continue rising. This increase in yearly visitors to the area has contributed to an increase in the number of ORV trails through the Sand Mountain Blue habitat.

The heavy, year-round ORV use at Sand Mountain restricts establishment of young plants essential to maintaining the butterfly’s habitat. Given their restricted geographic ranges, endemic species are generally considered more prone to extinction than widespread species, particularly short-lived species that can decline rapidly if their reproductive cycle is disrupted.

On April 23, 2004 the Center for Biological Diversity, Xerces Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association filed a petition with the Secretary of the Interior to list the Sand Mountain Blue butterfly as a threatened or endangered species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act . Petitioners also requested that critical habitat be designated for the Sand Mountain blue butterfly concurrent with the listing . This designation can protect and recover the species by preventing further degradation of its habitat from recreational use and abuse.
graphic Andrew Rodman ©2004
May 10, 2004
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