Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly  Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti
ESA status: petitioned for listing

[object Object]High in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, in the thin air between 7,800 and 9,000 feet, is a remarkable 33-square-mile patch of forest. It may not look much different from other patches of mixed conifer forests and mountain meadows in New Mexico, but it is the repository of a rare treasure - the only habitat in the world of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly. Within this range, the butterfly occurs on scattered patches which if added together would equal only 3.1 of those square miles.

This delicately patterned orange, brown, and white butterfly pollinates and feeds on a variety of plants, one of its favorites being sneezeweed. But like many other butterflies, it lays its eggs on only one host plant - the New Mexico penstemon, which itself is only found in the Sacramento and Capitan mountains. Climate change may spell disaster for this high-elevation species: if either the butterfly or the penstemon shifts its range due to changing temperatures or weather patterns, host and guest may miss each other and the butterfly will vanish forever.

The entire habitat of this butterfly is within a 6-mile radius of the town of Cloudcroft. Though Cloudcroft and Otero County have developed a conservation plan for the butterfly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), this plan does not provide the insurance against extinction that the butterfly needs to survive in a changing world. The precarious situation of the butterfly was underscored in 2007 during a debate over spraying large portions of the butterfly’s habitat with insecticide; the spray targeted budworms and looper caterpillars, but could also kill checkerspots. Due to intervention by WildEarth Guardians, the spraying was delayed, but not halted. Many other threats continue unabated.

Conservation groups have been petitioning the FWS to protect the checkerspot under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1998. However, despite the myriad threats to the butterfly - insecticides, livestock grazing, fire suppression, off-road vehicle use, road construction, residential development, exotic weeds, climate change, extreme weather, and inadequate state and federal regulations - the Service has refused to grant this rare and fragile creature ESA protections. WildEarth Guardians is energetically working to force the Service to provide the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly with ESA protection.

photo credit: Julie McIntyre, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service