Two Florida Butterflies Endangered, Agency Says

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed two rare Florida butterflies for endangered listing status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The action is part of a five-year court-approved work plan to reduce the backlog of listing candidates, according to the agency’s statement.
     The Florida leafwing and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak were first recognized as high priority candidate species in 1984. Fish and Wildlife removed them from the candidate list in 1996 because the agency “did not have sufficient information on the species’ biological vulnerability and threats to support issuance of a proposed rule,” the action noted. The butterflies were added back to the candidate list in 2006.
     The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), one of the agency’s most frequent litigants, sued the agency and secured a settlement in 2011 to speed listing decisions for 757 species across the country through the work plan. “The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce litigation-driven workloads and allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years,” the agency said.
     “To date, a total of 101 species have been protected under the agreement, and another 59 have been proposed for protection, counting the two butterflies,” according to the CBD’s statement.
     The leafwing and hairstreak butterflies, found only in southern Florida, live in pine rockland habitat and share the pineland croton as a host plant. The leafwing, so called due to its camouflaged resemblance to a dead leaf with wings closed, is only found in Everglades National Park (ENP). The hairstreak, which is grey with white and orange slashes, lives mainly in the ENP and on Big Pine Key outside the park. An estimated 90 percent of the pineland habitat the butterflies require has been destroyed on the mainland of southern Florida, the action noted.
     Both butterflies already have been eliminated from most of their historic ranges due to a wide spectrum of natural and “human-influenced” threats, such as prescribed burns and mechanical clearing for fire suppression, habitat fragmentation due to development, poaching from collectors, pesticide use, low genetic diversity, disease and sea level rise, the agency said.

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