Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 30, 2023

Contact:

Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681, tcurry@biologicaldiversity.org

New Mexico Butterfly Gains Endangered Species Act Protection

Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Nearly Extinct After 24 Years of Delay

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— In response to multiple petitions and lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as an endangered species.

The stunning orange and dark-brown butterfly is found only in high-elevation meadows in the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico. Most populations of the butterfly have been wiped out, and a mere 23 adults were detected in 2021 surveys. Only two small populations of the butterfly remain because most of its habitat has been degraded by grazing, development and motorized recreation.

“The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is one of the most endangered animals in the world, so it’s welcome news that it finally has protection,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Still, it’s going to take heroic efforts to save this species, because threats have only intensified over the past two decades of shameful hemming and hawing.”

In response to a 1999 scientific petition from the Center, the Service proposed to protect the butterfly in 2001 due to habitat loss from livestock grazing, drought, and the suppression of historical low-intensity fires. But the agency withdrew the proposal in 2004 based on a toothless voluntary conservation plan. A subsequent 2007 listing petition was denied due to political pressure, and the butterfly’s habitat continued to shrink.

The Service did not propose critical habitat for the butterfly today but intends to do so in a future rulemaking. Because the butterfly is now found only on public lands, the U.S. Forest Service will have to make management decisions that ensure its survival and recovery.

Scientists estimate that worldwide at least 10% of insects are vulnerable to extinction. Butterflies are one of the most at-risk groups, with nearly 20% of U.S. species facing imperilment.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act this year, we know that recovery is more successful and cost-effective when animals are protected before they’re on the very brink of extinction,” said Curry. “The Act has saved 99% of the plants and animals under its care, but the ones we’ve lost were protected too late.”

RSSacramento_Mountains_checkerspot_butterfly_USFWS_FPWC.png
Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly. Credit: USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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