Obama administration withholds protection after declaring more help is needed
April 13, 2011 (San Diego).— Responding to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity,(CBD) the Obama administration today denied Endangered Species Act protection to one of Southern California’s rarest butterflies, the Hermes copper butterfly. The butterfly was instead placed on the growing list of “candidate” species -- even though the CBD warns that the yellow-orange, spotted butterfly is threatened with extinction extinction.
“Sprawl and huge wildfires threaten to wipe out this beautiful butterfly,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist at the Center. “The Obama administration has condemned the Hermes copper butterfly to endangered species purgatory and denied it the protection it deserves.”
Using a tactic that has become commonplace on President Barack Obama’s watch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the butterfly warrants federal protection but won’t get it because protection is “precluded” by actions to list other species. To date, Obama’s Interior Department has used the “warranted-but-precluded” designation for 25 species — more than any other administration. Now 260 species are on the candidate list, where they receive no protection and on average wait 20 years for protection.
At least 24 species have gone extinct while waiting, the CBD reports.
Conservation groups have sought protection for the threatened butterfly for almost 20 years. The San Diego Biodiversity Project and the Center for Biological Diversity filed formal petitions with the federal government in 1991 and 2004 to protect the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to finally make a decision about the status of the butterfly as part of a 2009 settlement with the Center. Locally, concerns have been raised over potential impacts of Sunrise Powerlink on the species.
To date, the Obama government has only given Endangered Species Act protection to 59 species, for a rate of 29 species per year. In contrast, President Clinton protected 522 species under the Endangered Species Act for a rate of 65 species per year, while the first Bush administration protected 232 species for a rate of 58 per year. The slow pace of listings is despite a budget for listing species that has gone from $3 million in 2002 to more than $11 million in 2010.
“The Obama government is dragging its feet on protecting our country’s most threatened species,” said Anderson. “The Endangered Species Act can save our plants and animals, but only if they’re granted actual protection.”
The Center and other groups have an active lawsuit in Washington, D.C., showing that continued delays in protecting candidate species are illegal because the Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing species as the Act requires.
Learn more about the Center’s campaign to earn protection for all the candidate species. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/candidate_project/index.html
The Hermes copper butterfly’s survival depends on small areas of its host plant, the spiny redberry. The Hermes copper occupied many coastal areas prior to urbanization, and still occupies some foothill and mountain areas up to 45 miles from the ocean.
As early as 1980, staff at the San Diego Natural History Museum noted “with San Diego’s increasing growth and the distributional nature of this little endemic butterfly, its future may well rest in the hands of developers.”
Today’s decision, to be published in the April 14, 2011, Federal Register, finally recognizes that protection is needed, concluding, “Hermes copper butterfly is threatened by megafires, habitat fragmentation, and the effects of restricted range and small population size throughout all of the known populations in the United States. The effect of past habitat fragmentation is considered irreversible and has continuing impacts over the range of the species.”