The Butterfly vs. The Government

—by Roxy Bergeron

Last October, after over a decade of consideration, the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly was finally granted endangered species status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This tiny flutterer, with its fuzzy orange head and two-inch wingspan set about with a white and orange checkerboard, has evaporated from its range of approximately 70 sites across the prairie grasslands in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where the luscious grapes grow for an array of fantastic wines. 1 It's now found in at most a half-dozen sites in the Pacific Northwest, 2 with only one population remaining in the Willamette Valley.

It’s a lucky little critter, though, because a few weeks back the rules changed about how to define the significant portion of a habitat range relative to its survival as a species. 3 It might not have made the cut. A policy change to a part of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, slated to take effect last July, recolors the notion of what constitutes a significant portion of the range of a species. Now, only when loss of a part of its range threatens the species in its entirety will there be cause to list it as endangered. Also, instead of a critical habitat being any part of the real estate where it historically has dwelled, it is defined as being the places it is found today. 4

On its website, The Center for Biological Diversity 5 posted a press release dated June 27, 2014, announcing its intention to “file a legal challenge” regarding the revamping of what constitutes a significant portion of the range of a species. The group, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Arizona, takes exception to this recharacterization:

"The policy finalized today eviscerates the key requirement that species need not be at risk of extinction everywhere before they can be protected,” said Brett Hartl, the center’s endangered species policy director. “The policy absolutely undermines the spirit of the Endangered Species Act and will allow massive decline of our native wildlife along with the destruction of wildlife habitat.” 6


[Roxy Bergeron is a Hampden Park Co-op volunteer cashier with a soft spot for endangered creatures.]