LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to save a rare Nevada butterfly from extinction. The Mount Charleston blue butterfly is threatened by the agencies’ approval of a major ski area expansion.
The butterfly is native to the Spring Mountains, a high-elevation sky island mountain range that towers above the Las Vegas Valley.
Expansion of the Lee Canyon Ski Area would, for the first time, open the resort to summer operations — the only time the adult butterflies are active. The proposal includes miles of new mountain-bike trails that would crisscross the butterfly’s critical habitat, as well as zip lines and a “mountain coaster.”
“It’s outrageous that the government would allow the most important remaining habitat for this beautiful little butterfly to be turned into a downhill-sports amusement park,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “The Mount Charleston blue butterfly hangs by a thread, and we don’t intend to sit idly by while the Forest Service lets a multinational corporation destroy what remains of the species.”
The lawsuit targets both the Forest Service’s approval of the project and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s claim that allowing high-speed bike trails to fragment the butterfly’s critical habitat will not jeopardize its continued existence or damage that habitat.
Supporting the lawsuit is Center member, former Clark County Commissioner and state Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani. Commonly known as Chris G., Giunchigliani is a longtime advocate of the Spring Mountains.
“Lee Canyon has been a special place to me for decades, as it is for all southern Nevadans,” said Giunchigliani. “I’m pleased to support the Center’s lawsuit because sometimes we need to stand up and fight for the places that are important to us. Recreation is already causing impacts to Lee Canyon, and we shouldn’t let a big corporation turn it into an amusement park for profit at the expense of habitat.”
The Lee Canyon ski resort is owned by Powdr Corp., a multinational corporation that owns almost a dozen ski areas and boasts of having a “corporate responsibility promise [to] protect the environment.”
“Powdr Corp likes to say it’s environmentally friendly, but it may well drive the Mount Charleston blue butterfly to extinction,” said Donnelly. “We hope the company will step up and follow through on its good-citizen promise by doing what’s needed to save this little creature.”
The Center is represented by in-house counsel and by Chris Mixson of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman, & Rabkin, LLP.