Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly Should Be an Endangered Species, USFWS Says

A rare species of butterfly in New Mexico now faces extinction and needs urgent protection, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which has said the animals should be considered an endangered species.

The USFWS officially published its decision in a report on Tuesday, saying the authority now considered it necessary to add the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly to the Endangered Species Act (1973.)

The Act considers any animal that faces danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range as endangered.

The FWS proposal said the species now only exists in two surviving populations, isolated from one another, in very low numbers.

The submission also outlined threats faced by the butterflies. Over grazing by ungulates such as elk and horses, climate change, changes to the wildfire management program and recreation by humans were all cited as threats to the species.

Stock image of a chequered butterfly
Stock image of a checkerspot butterfly. The Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly is now considered at risk of extinction. Sundry Photography/Getty Images

Conservationists have previously lobbied the USFWS to protect the butterflies.

The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity submitted a petition 1999 to have the species considered endangered.

The USFWS also proposed to list the species as endangered in 2001, but then reversed the application in 2004 saying the threads had been overstated. Another application was submitted in 2008 and the following year the organization found the endangered status was not warranted.

Since this time, worsening habitat conditions for the butterflies have seen their situation deteriorate and the USFWS now believes they face extinction.

"I'm relieved that after more than two decades of advocacy, the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has finally received protection, but sad that it was allowed to decline so severely such that only eight butterflies could be found in the last survey," Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Newsweek.

"The FWS frequently denies clearly endangered species protection when faced with opposition, including the butterfly twice in the last 20 years. We must protect more of the natural world to save this butterfly and so many more species."

In a statement, Greenwald said numbers had fallen as a result of politically driven decisions. "I hope it doesn't come to pass, but this butterfly could become the first species to go extinct because of longstanding malfeasance and dysfunction at the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said in the statement. "Decisions about the protection of species like the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly are matters of life and death that must not be subject to political whims."

The Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico where the butterflies live are a remote range of mountains in the south of the state, falling largely within the Mescalero Reservation.

The Mescalero are an Apache tribe named for their affinity with the mescal plant found in the region.