Biodiversity: Rare Florida butterfly gets protection

Can emergency endangered species protecting bring the Miami blue back from the edge of extinction?

(Techno News) — A delicate blue Florida butterfly that’s been buffeted by hurricanes, habitat loss and invasive species now has the full protection of the Endangered Species Act — but will it be enough to save the tiny insect.

Biodiversity Rare Florida butterfly gets protection 268x300 Biodiversity: Rare Florida butterfly gets protectionThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that the Miami blue butterfly gets emergency protection under the landmark environmental law, but only a few known remnant populations remain, mainly in the Florida Keys.

The butterfly was thought to be extinct after Hurricane Andrew hit the area in 1992. Whether or not the protections will enable the species to recover remains to be seen, but at least the butterfly now has a fighting chance, according to the environmental group that pushed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make the listing.

“We’re thrilled that the Miami blue now has the Endangered Species Act protection it so desperately needs to survive and recover,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We applaud the Service for protecting this very rare and beautiful butterfly on an emergency basis.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that only a few hundred individual butterflies remain. During a November 2010 survey, the agency counted fewer than 50 adults and surveys this year yielded similar results.

The Miami blue has been waiting for federal protection since it was first made a candidate for listing in 1984. Candidates are species the agency recognizes need Endangered Species Act protection to avoid extinction, but which are placed on a waiting list where they get no protection. The North American Butterfly Association first sought emergency protection for the butterfly in 1999. The Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Service in 2005 for failing to protect the butterfly.

This week’s listing came partially as the result of a recent breakthrough agreement between conservation groups and the federal agency, which agreed to follow a set schedule for making listing decisions on more than 700 species thought to be at risk of extinction. The decision on the Miami blue butterfly even came ahead of schedule in an almost unprecedented move for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The decision to provide emergency protection for the Miami blue marks an important turning point in the Obama administration’s record on endangered species protection. We look forward to seeing the protection of many of our nation’s most imperiled species in the coming months,” said Curry.

The agency said the emergency listing is needed because of combined threats from habitat destruction and modification, ccidental harm from humans, loss of genetic diversity, and catastrophic environmental events, such as hurricanes. Additionally, non-native iguanas have been eating native plants needed by the butterflies.

The Service is working with the State and many other partners on initiatives for the Miami blue, such as conducting additional surveys to search for other potential populations, assessing the extent of occupancy and size of the remaining population, and looking at options for controlling and reducing other threats, like the invasive iguanas.

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