WASHINGTON (CN) - A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service action was a mixed bag for the Pacific Northwest's streaked horned lark and Taylor's checkerspot butterfly. The lark was granted threatened status and the butterfly was granted endangered status under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency slashed the proposed critical habitat for both species and added special exemptions from prohibitions against harming the lark.
The listing action is the result of a 2011 settlement agreement between the USFWS and its most frequent litigant, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which engendered a five-year workplan to expedite listing decisions for well over 700 species across the country.
"The streaked horned lark and Taylor's checkerspot butterfly are beautiful species that need our help to survive. The Endangered Species Act has been more than 99 percent effective at saving species, but it needs to be utilized to its fullest extent if it is going to save these and other rare prairie species. I'm glad the lark and butterfly are finally protected, but disappointed the Fish and Wildlife Service is backtracking on the degree of protection they're getting," the CBD's endangered species director Noah Greenwald was quoted as saying in the group's press release.
The primary threats to both species are the "loss, conversion and degradation of habitat, particularly as a consequence of agricultural and urban development, successional changes to grassland habitat, and the spread of invasive plants," the action said.
The butterfly has bright markings that resemble a checkerboard. It was historically found in 80 locations in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon but only 14 locations are occupied now.
The streaked horned lark shares the same historical range as the butterfly. It is a small ground-dwelling bird distinguished by black feather tufts that can be raised or lowered, which look like horns.
The lark has disappeared from many areas of its former range and is found only in Puget Sound, along the Washington coast and lower Columbia River islands, and in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Because the lark prefers flat ground that has sparse low-standing vegetation, it is found near several airports.
Human-managed landscapes both create and maintain habitat for the lark through burning, mowing, cropping and depositing dredge spoils, but human activities can also threaten the birds at sensitive life stages, the action noted.
The final listing action uses a special clause within the Endangered Species Act to provide exemptions from take (harm) of the larks in certain agricultural areas and around airports. Because agriculture and airports create habitat for the birds, some take is seen to be "unavoidable," according to the action. "The service recognizes that routine agricultural activities, even those with the potential to inadvertently take individual streaked horned larks, are necessary components of agricultural operations and create habitat that may provide for the long-term conservation needs of the subspecies."
The biggest change from the 2012 proposal is in the reduction of critical habitat.
"From the critical habitat area proposed last year for the two species ...the Fish and Wildlife Service cut nearly 5,000 acres for the butterfly and just over 7,500 acres for the lark," the CBD noted in their statement.
The USFWS said that after evaluation of comments and information received since the publication of last year's proposal, many units were determined to be "not essential" to the conservation of the species.
Both the listing action and the critical habitat designation are effective Nov. 4.
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