Butterflies Threatened by Walmart Development, Sea-level Rise
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— As part of an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed decisions to protect 757 imperiled species across the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it will protect two south Florida butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, along with 22,100 acres of critical habitat. The protected habitat includes land in Miami-Dade County, where a developer wants to build a Walmart and a strip mall.
Today’s protections are for the Florida leafwing, a beautiful butterfly that looks like a dead leaf when at rest, and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, a medium-sized gray butterfly with delicate dashes of white and rust. Both butterflies have lost a significant amount of their pine rockland habitat due to development, and they are also now facing the serious and compounding threats of climate change.
“This is an important victory for these two struggling Florida butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney at the Center. “This designation should help protect the rare and disappearing pine rocklands that are important habitat for a host of Florida species.”
The Florida leafwing now only occurs in Everglades National Park, while Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak can be found in Big Pine Key, Everglades National Park and other areas of conservation land.
Today’s decision protects 10,561 acres of habitat the Florida leafwing butterfly and 11,539 acres for the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly, all in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. This designation covers lands that are slated for development for a new strip mall featuring a Walmart, Chili’s and Chick-fil-A.
“The last thing these butterflies need is another strip mall smack in the middle of some of their most important habitat,” Lopez said.
In addition to declines due to habitat fragmentation and destruction, the butterflies are now direly threatened by sea-level rise. The best-case scenario projections for sea-level rise at Big Pine Key are for a rise of 7 inches, which would flood an estimated 34 percent of the island. The worst-case scenario projection is for 4.6 feet, which would put an astounding 96 percent of the Key underwater.
Both butterflies were first recognized as candidates for protection in 1984. The Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from the candidate list in 1996, and then added them again in 2006. In 2011 the Center and the Service reached a landmark agreement that will ensure all the species on the federal waiting list for protection as of 2010 will get decisions within the next four years. Ten Florida species have received final protection under the agreement, including the Miami blue butterfly, five freshwater mussels, Florida bonneted bat, Cape Sable thoroughwort, aboriginal prickly apple and Florida semaphore cactus. So far 128 species around the country have gained Endangered Species Act protection under the agreement, including the two butterflies, and another 15 have been proposed for protection.