WASHINGTON— In response to a third legal petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protection for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The orange-and-black checkered butterfly is found only in high-elevation meadows around the village of Cloudcroft in the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico. Only eight butterflies and no larval tents could be found in the latest survey.
“This pretty little butterfly is on the brink of extinction because of delay and politically driven decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “If the agency had protected the butterfly after our 1999 petition, there would certainly be more than eight butterflies left today.”
In response to the 1999 petition from the Center, the Service proposed in 2001 to list the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as endangered due to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation, drought, wildfire and overcollection. The situation described in the listing proposal was so dire that the agency recommended endangered status and the designation of all suitable habitats, including unoccupied habitats and dispersal corridors, as critical habitat.
Unfortunately, the Service withdrew the proposal in 2004 based on a voluntary conservation plan that lacked teeth; it denied a subsequent listing petition in 2009, allowing threats to the butterfly to continue unabated.
Over the past 20 years, the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has continued to decline in the face of habitat loss and degradation due to development, livestock grazing, motorized recreation, invasive species, fire suppression and climate change.
“I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but this butterfly could become the first species to go extinct because of longstanding malfeasance and dysfunction at the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Greenwald. “The best chance for this butterfly is that Martha Williams, who’s waiting to be confirmed as the next director, will work to reform the agency. Decisions about the protection of species like the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly are matters of life and death that must not be subject to political whims.”
The Sacramento Mountains of southeastern New Mexico are isolated from other large ranges and hence home to a variety of animals and plants that evolved there separately and are not found elsewhere.