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Two Florida Butterflies Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection, 17,546 Acres of Protected Habitat
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - August 14 - Following an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed decisions on the protection of 757 imperiled species across the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect two butterflies in south Florida under the Endangered Species Act, along with 17,546 acres of critical habitat. The Florida leafwing is a beautiful butterfly that looks like a dead leaf when at rest. Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak is a medium-sized gray butterfly with delicate dashes of white and rust. Both butterflies have lost a significant amount of their habitat due to development, and are also now facing the serious and compounding threats of climate change.
“Our land-use practices in south Florida have eliminated these butterflies from most of their former range,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney at the Center. “But it’s not too late to help these beautiful little creatures. Protection under the Endangered Species Act will guarantee that we’re taking the necessary steps to ensure their survival.”
The Florida leafwing now only occurs in Everglades National Park, while Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak can be found in Big Pine Key, Everglades National Park, and other areas of Miami-Dade County. The Service is proposing to protect 8,285 acres for the leafwing and 9,261 acres for the scrub-hairstreak. Most of the lands proposed for protection are managed by federal, state and local governments.
The butterflies have suffered decline due to habitat fragmentation and destruction, including development and foliage burning. They are now direly threatened by sea-level rise. The best-case scenario projections for sea-level rise at Big Pine Key are for a rise of 7 inches, which would flood an estimated 34 percent of the island. The worst-case scenario projection is for 4.6 feet, which would put an astounding 96 percent of the Key under water.
Both butterflies were first recognized as candidates for protection in 1984. The Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from the candidate list in 1996, and then added them again in 2006. In 2011 the Center and the Service reached a landmark agreement that will ensure all the species on the federal waiting list for protection as of 2010 will get decisions within the next four years. To date, a total of 101 species have been protected under the agreement, and another 59 have been proposed for protection, counting the two butterflies. Six Florida species have received final protection under the agreement, including the Miami blue butterfly and five freshwater mussels. At least four Florida species have been proposed for protection — the Florida bonneted bat, Cape Sable thoroughwort, aboriginal prickly apple and Florida semaphore cactus.
“Kudos go to the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking this important, species-saving action — these rare butterflies desperately need our help,” said Lopez. “The plight of these butterflies should be a wake-up call for Floridians to demand that our elected officials take climate change seriously.”