Following an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed decisions for protection of 757 imperiled species across the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized Endangered Species Act protection today for Nevada’s Mount Charleston blue butterfly. The butterfly occurs in just a few locations at very small numbers and is threatened by fire suppression, fuel reduction activities and recreational development.
“This is great news for one of Nevada’s rarest species. The beautiful Mount Charleston blue butterfly is in desperate need of help and we’ve got to move quickly,” said Rob Mrowka, a Center ecologist based in Nevada. “Even before prime areas of habitat were severely damaged by this summer’s Carpenter 1 wildfire, there were very few of these butterflies left in the world.”
The Mount Charleston blue butterfly is limited to upper elevations of Mount Charleston, about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas in the U.S. Forest Service-managed Spring Mountain National Recreation Area. The butterfly’s habitat — open forests with little understory vegetation and exposed mineral soil — has been threatened by attempts to suppress natural fires that have led to overgrown forests. Specifically the butterfly’s habitat has been hurt in recent years by Forest Service fuel-reduction projects in which small trees and brush were chipped and spread on the ground, covering the butterfly’s host plants.
“If the Mount Charleston blue is to have any chance at survival, it will need quick action on the part of the Forest Service to ensure its habitat is maintained and restored,” said Mrowka. “We sure hope that surveys conducted next year will find the survivors needed to rebuild the population. If not, the planet will have lost another valuable strand in its irreplaceable web of life.”
The Mount Charleston blue is a distinctive subspecies of the wider-ranging Shasta blue butterfly and was first identified as such in 1928. The butterfly is less than an inch long; males are iridescent blue and gray, while the females are a more subdued brown-gray.
Under the settlement agreement with the Center 108 species have been protected so far, including the butterfly, and another 61 have been proposed for protection.