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Environmental Groups Sue Over Listing of Rare Butterfly

Lack of listing protection leaves Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly highly endangered

Two environmental groups are trying to force the Interior Department to make a preliminary finding on whether a rare southern New Mexico butterfly should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians and Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity sued Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Jan. 3 in federal court in Washington, D.C., to force him to make a decision on the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly - which the federal government previously proposed as an endangered species.

The butterfly, with a 2-inch wingspan, is checkered with white and deep orange squares separated by black bands. It exists only on about 2,000 acres in high-elevation meadows in the mountains near the Sacramento Mountain village of Cloudcroft.

The petition seeks to force Kempthorne to make a decision on the butterfly and protecting habitat critical for its survival.

"The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has been denied protection for too long," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Endangered Species Act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide within 90 days whether a petition presents information that a species should be listed.

If the agency decides a petition has merit, it has 12 months to rule whether listing is warranted. If it issues a favorable ruling, it must make a final decision within a year and designate critical habitat.

"We actually have the money in this fiscal year (that begins Oct. 1) to conduct that 90-day finding," said Elizabeth Slown, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque. "We did not have that money in the last fiscal year."

The Center for Biological Diversity sued in March 2001, accusing the agency of being 13 months late in responding to its Jan. 28, 1999, petition to list the butterfly.

A federal court on July 31, 2001, ordered the agency to complete its 12-month finding, and the Fish and Wildlife Service in September 2001 proposed listing the butterfly as endangered.

However, it never finalized that decision and withdrew it in December 2004. The agency said threats were diminishing and the butterfly didn't need endangered species protection.

The environmental groups disagreed and submitted a new petition last June.

In the latest lawsuit, the groups said the 2007 petition urged a listing as threatened or endangered because the butterfly was imminently threatened by a plan for insecticide spraying in the area.

The environmentalists said the spraying threat was averted, but they were pursuing the listing because it could occur again this summer. The lawsuit listed other threats, including habitat loss and climate change.

The groups said the Fish and Wildlife Service told them last month that it expected to complete a 90-day listing in 2008. The lawsuit said the promise is not enforceable and that under the federal law, the 90-day finding should have been made last October.

Copyright 2008 Albuquerque Journal - Reprinted with permission


 

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