Vanishing Butterflies Flutter Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318

Vanishing Butterflies Flutter Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

SAN DIEGO - Through a legal settlement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Obama
administration will reconsider protection for two of Southern
California's rarest butterflies, the Hermes copper and Thorne's
hairstreak. The settlement agreement, which was approved by the court
late Friday afternoon, requires the agency to decide again whether the
butterflies should be considered for protection under the Endangered
Species Act.

 "Sprawl, rampant wildfires, and
climate change threaten to wipe these beautiful creatures off the
planet," said Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity.
"We must act now to protect these butterflies and their islands of
habitat in the mountains so they're not lost to future generations."

Two
of nature's unique gems, the butterflies are in continued peril. They
live in the coastal and mountain areas of San Diego County and are
threatened with extinction by the competing threats of urban sprawl,
increased wildfire risk, and global warming.

Conservation
groups have sought protection for the threatened butterflies for almost
20 years. First in 1991 and again in 2004, David Hogan and the Center
for Biological Diversity, respectively, filed formal petitions with the
federal government to protect the butterflies. Today's settlement hopes
to resolve the species' status.

The settlement
resolves a lawsuit filed on March 17, 2009 that was prompted after
documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that
the Bush administration had reversed the course of its own biologists
who recommended further research
into protection of the butterflies under the Endangered Species Act.
Biologists and agency staff concluded that enough information existed
to warrant protection and to continue a "status review" in order to
further investigate protection. Those decisions were ultimately
reversed.

"It will take years to clean up the Bush
administration's abysmal record on wildlife conservation," said Evans.
"We hope the Obama administration will follow sound science in
extending protection to these imperiled butterflies."

The Hermes copper butterfly

The Hermes copper
is a bright, yellow-orange spotted butterfly that is dependent for
survival on small areas of its host plant, the spiny redberry. The
Hermes copper occupied many coastal areas prior to urbanization, and
still occupies some foothill and mountain areas up to 45 miles from the
ocean.

As early as 1980, staff at the San Diego
Natural History Museum noted "with San Diego's increasing growth and
the distributional nature of this little endemic butterfly, its future
may well rest in the hands of developers." Files
of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the substantial threat
from wildfire: "Carlsbad FWS office files contain substantial
information regarding threat of wildfire due to increased human-induced
fire" due, in part, to the 2003 fire that "burned 39% of Hermes copper
habitat" including "large stands of the species' larval host plant and
entire colonies."

The Thorne's hairstreak butterfly

The Thorne's hairstreak
is a delicate butterfly with wings that range from reddish brown to
mahogany brown with lavender overscaling. The Thorne's hairstreak
butterfly has an extremely limited geographic range, existing in only
one small area on Otay Mountain in San Diego County. This limited range
is due, in part, to the limited distribution of its host plant, the
Tecate cypress, upon which it depends.

The
Thorne's hairstreak has been recognized as unique and imperiled for
more than 20 years. Unfortunately, the status of the Thorne's
hairstreak butterfly continues to deteriorate due to the increased
threat of wildfire posed by an increasing human population and illegal
migration across the Mexico border. Because of this limited
distribution, one wildfire event could wipe the species off the planet.
In fact, the 2003 wildfire event reduced the Thorne's hairstreak
occupied locations by half, from ten to five. Prior to the 2003
wildfires, biologists estimated that about 400 Thorne's hairstreak
butterflies remained in about eight populations. After the fire,
surveys turned up fewer than 100 individual butterflies in four to five
locations.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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