Denied protection for two decades, New Mexico butterfly finally nominated for ‘endangered’ status

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WASHINGTON In response to a third legal petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed the Sacramento Mountain Checkerboard Butterfly be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The orange-and-black checkered butterfly is found only in the high-altitude grasslands around the village of Cloudcroft in the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico. Only eight moths and no larval tents could be found during the last survey.

“This pretty little butterfly is on the brink of extinction due to delays and politically motivated decisions by the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species 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 Center’s 1999 petition, the Service proposed in 2001 to list the Sacramento Mountain Checkerboard Butterfly as endangered due to loss, fragmentation, degradation, drought, forest fires and habitat overuse. The situation described in the listing proposal was so severe that the agency recommended endangered status and designation of all suitable habitat, including unoccupied habitat and dispersal corridors, as critical habitat.

Unfortunately, the Service withdrew the proposal in 2004 based on a voluntary conservation plan that lacked strength; it rejected a subsequent listing application in 2009, allowing threats to the butterfly to continue unabated.

Over the past 20 years, the Sacramento Mountain checkerboard butterfly has continued to decline in the face of habitat loss and degradation from development, livestock grazing, motorized recreation, invasive species, fire suppression and climate change.

“I hope that doesn’t happen, but this butterfly could become the first species to go extinct due to long-standing misconduct and malfunctions at the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Greenwald said. “The best chance for this butterfly is that Martha Williams, who is awaiting confirmation as next director, works to reform the agency. Decisions about protecting species like the Sacramento Mountain Checkerboard Butterfly are matters of life or death which should not be subject to political whims.

The Sacramento Mountains of southeastern New Mexico are isolated from other major ranges and are therefore home to a variety of animals and plants that evolved there separately and are not found elsewhere.

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