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Gulf Coast Butterfly Threatened by Climate Change, Severe Storms, Habitat Loss
Sarina Jepsen | The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation | 503-232-6639 |
Washington, DC – July 11. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will publish a positive 90-day finding for the Bay skipper in the Federal Register tomorrow. The Service will then begin a 12-month review process to determine whether the skipper warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This fragile butterfly and its limited habitat are on the front lines of increasingly severe storms that are devastating the Gulf Coast, likely as a consequence of human-induced climate change. In December of 2009, WildEarth Guardians and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation submitted a petition to list this animal as an endangered species.
“We’re pleased that the Service recognizes severe storms and sea level rise – symptoms of climate change – as potentially severe threats to the Bay skipper,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Both our wildlife and human communities face serious challenges on the Gulf Coast, and as a country we need to put all our resources into mitigating the impacts of climate change.”
The Bay skipper has been reported from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for which it is named, and the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Texas. It may also live in other areas of sawgrass marsh habitat in other Gulf Coastal states, but there have been no reports to date. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the skipper’s Bay St. Louis habitat in 2005. Hurricane Ike inundated Anahuac NWR in 2008 and no Bay skippers have been seen there since.
“The Bay skipper is an indicator of the health of its fragile coastal marsh environment,” said Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “By safeguarding habitat for this rare butterfly, we will in turn protect a whole suite of other plants and animals that call these areas of the Gulf coast home.”
Federal safeguards for the Bay skipper are an essential part of protecting coastal habitats vulnerable to extreme weather events such as hurricanes. Coastal wetlands are home to rich biodiversity and also buffer severe storms, protecting inland habitat (including human dwellings) from the worst impacts of severe weather.
“The important role of these buffer zones has often gone unacknowledged,” continued Jones. “Coastal wetlands have been drained and built over by development projects. If bold, international action is not taken to halt climate change, increasingly severe storms and sea level rise will likely further inundate these unique coastal areas, forever changing the face of the Gulf Coast.”
Listing species under the Endangered Species Act has proven very effective in preventing species extinction. Over 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the act persist today. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listed species also benefit from the development of federally funded recovery plans and critical habitat, if designated.