Conservationists Seek Federal Protection for Rare Midwest Butterfly

Continued Habitat Loss and Other Factors Prompt Endangered Species Act Listing Petition

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance
The Xerces Society
Center for Native Ecosystems

For Immediate Release May 12, 2003

Laramie, WY – A coalition of conservation and scientific organizations filed a petition today under the Endangered Species Act requesting federal protection for the Dakota skipper, an imperiled prairie butterfly, and its endangered grassland habitat under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Once widely distributed across the midwestern United States and south-central Canada, the Dakota skipper butterfly has experienced significant declines in the last 150 years. The butterfly has been wiped out of much of its range in Minnesota and North and South Dakota and has disappeared altogether from Iowa or Illinois. Scientific experts, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have all concluded the species is at great risk and may soon become extinct.

Conversion of prairie to cropland is the primary reason for the butterfly’s decline. The Dakota skipper depends on high-quality prairie habitat for survival, and is also an important indicator of prairie health. Prairie habitat in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Canadian Province of Manitoba has declined by over 99%. Prairie habitat in North and South Dakota has declined by nearly 75% and the Province of Saskatchewan has lost over 80% of its native prairie. Gravel mining, road construction, domestic livestock grazing, herbicide and pesticide use, the spread of non-native plants, burning, and mowing are also taking a toll.

“Healthy populations of Dakota skipper mean a healthy prairie,” explained Jeremy Nichols, Endangered Species Coordinator with the Laramie, Wyoming-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “The decline and endangerment of the butterfly speaks directly to the loss and declining health of our prairies.”

In 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Dakota skipper butterfly a candidate species, a designation that means the Service believes Endangered Species Act protection is “warranted.” Yet there is no indication the butterfly will receive much needed Endangered Species Act protection any time soon.

“The Dakota skipper is slipping toward extinction while the Service continues to make excuses and drag its heels” said Jacob Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Native Ecosystems.

The Service usually blames a lack of funding for its refusal to protect candidate and other imperiled species, but these funding constraints are a crisis of its own making. The Bush administration coninues to fight against increasing the listing budget despite the growing number of species that need Endangered Species Act protection. Although the Fish and Wildlife Service’s entire Endangered Species Act budget has increased over 500 percent since 1992, the listing budget is the only line item that decreased in real dollars over the
same period. While the Service fights to keep its budget low, most candidate species continue to decline while waiting for ESA protection. In 1997, for example, the Service announced that five candidate species had become extinct while languishing on the candidate list.

“The Dakota skipper has lost much of its habitat and what remains continues to be destroyed and degraded. There is no question that this butterfly and its prairie habitat need to be protected,” said Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director and butterfly specialist with The Xerces Society. “Butterflies are also important environmental monitors. They are like the canary in the coal mine and are another reminder that these grassland ecosystems, and all of the species that depend on them, are in trouble.”

Endangered Species Act protection for the Dakota skipper would mean that its prairie habitat would be protected and restored. It would also require the federal government to develop a recovery plan.

The petitioners, led by Laramie, Wyoming-based organization Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, include the Center for Biological Diversity (Tucson, AZ), Center for Native Ecosystems (Paonia, CO), Native Ecosystems Council (Rapid City, SD), and The Xerces Society (Portland, OR). All groups are dedicated to the protection of the Dakota skipper and other imperiled prairie species and to the recovery of healthy and high-quality prairie
habitat in the northern Great Plains.

Contact:
Jeremy Nichols, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance; (307) 742-7978
Scott Hoffman Black, The Xerces Society; (503) 534-2706
Jacob Smith, Center for Native Ecosystems; (970) 527-8993


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