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Feds Deny Protection to Rare New Mexico Butterfly - Again

WildEarth Guardians Will Challenge Decision

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) decided today that the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly does not warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite the butterfly’s tiny range of 1,900 acres and admissions by the Service last year that it is likely threatened by climate change and insecticides.

“We are shocked by the Service’s refusal to grant protection to this butterfly, which is fluttering on the knife’s edge of extinction,” said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “This butterfly occurs on less than 2,000 acres and faces many threats within that small area, and yet the feds are continuing to ignore its plight,” continued Rosmarino.

The checkerspot had previously been on track for federal protection. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition seeking protection in 1998, which resulted in a 2001 proposal to list this butterfly as endangered. But the Service withdrew the listing proposal in 2004, claiming threats to the butterfly had been reduced. Subsequently, WildEarth Guardians and the Center filed a petition in June 2007 on the basis of a range-wide insecticide proposal threatening the butterfly. Today’s finding was in response to the 2007 petition and a subsequent lawsuit by the groups.

The Service relied heavily today on their 2004 withdrawal of the 2001 listing proposal. WildEarth Guardians points out that much has happened since 2004 that underscores the need for federal protection, including the 2007 insecticide proposal by the U.S. Forest Service and Otero County and mounting evidence of the climate change threat. While the Forest Service and county eventually agreed to delay spraying until a time of year when it would impact the butterfly less, the threat was narrowly averted and could arise again at any time. The Service stated in its decision today that it believed the Forest Service and county would confer with them on ways to avoid harm to the butterfly, but these entities are under no obligation to do so.

The Service also approved the Forest Service’s management of livestock grazing on the Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Mountains, which is resulting in a moonscape with sparse cover after the cattle are through. The Service also admits that it doesn’t know whether butterfly numbers are declining or increasing, nor does it know how private land management is impacting the butterfly. Approximately half of butterfly habitat is on private land, and the other half is on Forest Service land.

But according to WildEarth Guardians, the Service’s finding that climate change does not threaten the butterfly is the worst example of junk science. Across the globe, butterflies have been recognized to be at especially high risk from climate change given that many butterflies are specialized to depend on just a few host plants. The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is known to lay its eggs on a single type of plant, the New Mexico penstemon, which also has a very narrow range. Even a slight shift in the plant’s distribution, productivity, or other factors could further imperil the checkerspot. But the Service decided today that “it is conceivable that the butterfly may use alternative food plants” or it may shift its range in response to climate change.

“The Service is expecting a fragile creature never known to exist outside of a 6 mile radius of Cloudcroft to pack its bags and change its ways in order to survive the climate crisis. That is an unfair and illegal expectation,” stated Rosmarino.

The Service’s decision dismissed a long list of threats in the finding: livestock grazing, fire suppression, off-road vehicle use, road construction, residential development, exotic weeds, climate change, extreme weather, and inadequate state or federal regulations. Those threats were substantiated in the 2001 listing proposal and the 2007 petition, but continue to be ignored by the Service.

WildEarth Guardians filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the Service today over its finding.

“The Service went out of its way to avoid federal protection for this butterfly on the brink, forcing us to drag them back to court, which we will swiftly do,” stated Rosmarino.

For more background information and photos, contact Nicole Rosmarino at or (505) 699-7404.


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