In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) reached a settlement agreement with environmental groups in which it agreed to make final listing decisions on over 200 species over the next six years. Last month, we noted that the national effects of this settlement agreement had yet to be fully discerned. (See Signs of Trouble Ahead?) Today, its effects became a little clearer as the Service issued a proposed rule to list the Mount Charleston blue butterfly (Icaricia shasta charlestonensis) as an endangered specie. In addition, the Service intends to list as threatened five other species of butterfly that look similar to the Mount Charleston blue in order to further protect it.
The butterfly is found only in the Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas. One reporter cited a source that stated that biologists were able to locate only 20 individuals of the species (E&E Reporter, Sept. 26, 2012, by Laura Petersen). The Service has attributed the species' decline to, among other things, drought and habitat loss from fire suppression in the area. The Service declined to identify the exact location of the butterfly’s critical habitat, citing concerns that doing so would lead unauthorized collectors to the last remaining individuals.
Federal protection of the butterfly may affect recreation and development in the area. Kevin Stickleman is the president and manager of a ski resort in the Spring Mountains area that plans to expand over the next several years. In a recent interview, Stickleman said that he was confident that he could work in close consultation with federal authorities, and ensure that the planned expansion would continue. While this may complicate the resort’s plans, Stickleman felt that federal protection of the butterfly was an important step in protecting the health of the Spring Mountains.