Five Western Butterflies Doing OK, Says Agency

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Five butterfly species and subspecies in Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington are doing well enough that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials declined to list them as threatened or endangered, in two recent 12-month petition findings.
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     In one finding, the agency notes that “the mardon skipper is a rare Northwestern butterfly with a remarkably disjunct range,” in four widely separated locations from the coastal hills in northwestern California, through the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, to the south Puget Sound region.
     A 2002 petition to protect the species, by The Xerces Society, The Center for Biological Diversity, and five other environmental groups, requested endangered status for the mardon skipper. The agency’s finding at that time was “warranted but precluded,” based on limited funding and higher priorities. The agency continued to compile information on the species and two subspecies, and then downgraded the species’ priority in 2009, due to the discovery of new populations and increased protections offered by state and federal special status species programs, according to the action.
     The agency found that the potential negative impacts to the butterfly’s habitat, such as forest succession, fire, invasive nonnative plants, livestock grazing, and off-road vehicle use, have been reduced or eliminated on federal and state lands due to the development and implementation of conservation plans and habitat restoration projects.
     There is a potential for habitat loss on private lands, “but there are relatively few known mardon skipper sites on private lands,” the action states. Because the skipper is distributed over a variety of habitat types, the agency suggests it is less vulnerable to climate change, compared to more narrowly distributed species, though the Xerces petition states that, “small, isolated populations are much more likely to go extinct than large, interconnected populations.”
     Even though the agency admits that the state of Washington continues to list the species as endangered despite the updated information, the USFWS finds that the species and its two subspecies do not merit an endangered or threatened listing at this time.
     In a second 12-month petition finding, the agency similarly found that the threats to four butterflies in the Great Basin of Nevada lacked “sufficient imminence, intensity, or magnitude” to warrant an endangered or threatened listing for the White River Valley skipper, Steptoe Valley crescentspot, Baking Powder Flat blue butterfly, and the bleached sandhill skipper.
     A 2010 petition by WildEarth Guardians sought protection for 10 butterflies, and cited factors potentially affecting them, including water development, land development, livestock grazing, nonnative species invasion, agriculture, climate change, limited range and small population sizes. The agency’s 90-day petition finding maintained that six of the ten species did not warrant listing. The agency then initiated a 12-month review of the remaining four species, but found that the threats were “limited in scope or lack documentation that they are occurring in occupied habitat and adversely impacting the species,” according to the action. Though climate change may be affecting the butterflies and their habitats, the agency maintains that the available information does not support a determination that climate change will have a population-level impact or that “existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to protect the subspecies from potential threats.”
     The USFWS says that it will continue to monitor the butterflies, and requests additional comments and information.

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