The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the streaked horned lark and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly today under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was part of a historic settlement agreement reached with the Center in 2011 requiring Fish and Wildlife to speed protection decisions for 757 species across the country. The agency also designated 1,941 acres of protected critical habitat for the butterfly and 4,629 acres for the lark in Washington and Oregon, including acreage at the Olympia, Portland and Salem municipal airports.
“With today’s decision, these unique prairie species have a fighting chance,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “Very little of the original prairie grasslands that once graced the Puget Trough and Willamette Valley remain. To save the lark and the butterfly, we need to identify the last remnants and protect them and restore other areas.”
Both of the species have suffered substantial declines and are now found only at a handful of scattered locations around the Puget Sound, Olympic Peninsula, Washington Coast, Columbia River and Willamette Valley. Their prairie habitats are limited to places like the Fort Lewis Military Reservation, the Olympia airport and W.L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. The remainder of their habitat has been plowed under, paved or converted to forest or nonnative plants.
From the critical habitat area proposed last year for the two species, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service cut nearly 5,000 acres for the butterfly and just over 7,500 acres for the lark. The agency also included a special rule that exempts nearly all agricultural and airport activities from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act.
“The streaked horned lark and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly are beautiful species that need our help to survive,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act has been more than 99 percent effective at saving species, but it needs to be utilized to its fullest extent if it is going to save these and other rare prairie species. I’m glad the lark and butterfly are finally protected, but disappointed the Fish and Wildlife Service is backtracking on the degree of protection they’re getting.” More....