U.S. Agency Lists Nevada|Butterfly as Endangered

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A rare Nevada butterfly has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list five others that were proposed for listing at the same time.
     The Mount Charleston blue butterfly lives only in the high elevations of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area about 25 miles west of Las Vegas, Nev.
     “The service first identified the Mount Charleston blue butterfly as a candidate for ESA protection in 2011, due to the threat posed by the loss and degradation of its habitat and inadequate regulatory mechanisms to prohibit collection of the butterfly. The species is likely to experience continued habitat loss due to changes in natural fire regimes and succession, fuels reduction projects, and the implementation of recreational development projects,” the agency’s press release stated.
     The listing action was spurred by a settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity that resulted in a court-approved five-year workplan to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species across the country, according to the CBD’s press release.
     The Charleston blue has only three remaining “known-occupied” habitat locations and seven “presumed-occupied” locations. The Carpenter I Fire in July burned into the butterfly’s habitat and the extent of damage has yet to be determined. “Adult butterflies may have been able to escape the fire, but the full extent of impacts to egg, larval, pupal, or adult life stages from exposure to lethal levels of smoke, gases, and convection or radiant heat from the fire will be unknown until surveys are performed on the ground,” the action said.
     The September 2012 listing proposal included five other butterflies that look like the Charleston blue. At the time, the USFWS reasoned that butterfly collectors could misrepresent the Charleston blue as one of the other species, and the agency proposed the other species for listing under the ESA’s similarity of appearance provision.
     The listing proposal also noted that the danger of providing specific habitat information needed for a critical habitat designation would put the butterflies at increased risk from collectors, so no critical habitat was proposed at that time.
     The agency has reversed its position on both points and has determined that the listing of the five other butterflies is no longer necessary due to a closure order on collection issued by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. “The application processes for [USFWS] and Forest Service collection permits associated with the closure order require thorough review of applicant qualifications by agency personnel, and we believe only highly qualified individuals capable of distinguishing between small, blue butterfly species that occur in the Spring Mountains will be issued permits. As a result, we do not anticipate that individuals with permits will misidentify the butterfly species, and therefore, we do not believe inadvertent collection of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly by authorized individuals will occur,” the USFWS said in the action. Unauthorized collection would be more easily policed by the Forest Service’s law enforcement than the USFWS could enforce violations of similarity of appearance listings, the action said.
     The agency also determined that a critical habitat designation is now prudent due to the collection closure and plans to publish that in a separate action.
     The listing is effective Oct. 21.

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