From Center for
PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the streaked
horned lark and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly today under the Endangered
Species Act. The decision was part of a historic settlement agreement
reached with the Center in 2011 requiring Fish and Wildlife to speed
protection decisions for 757 species across the country. The agency also
designated 1,941 acres of protected critical habitat for the butterfly and
4,629 acres for the lark in Washington and Oregon, including acreage at the
Olympia, Portland and Salem municipal airports.
Streaked horned lark photo by David Maloney, USFWS. This photo is
available for media use.
“With today’s decision, these unique prairie species have a fighting chance,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “Very little of the original prairie grasslands that once graced the Puget Trough and Willamette Valley remain. To save the lark and the butterfly, we need to identify the last remnants and protect them and restore other areas.”
Both of the species have suffered substantial declines and are now found only at a handful of scattered locations around the Puget Sound, Olympic Peninsula, Washington Coast, Columbia River and Willamette Valley. Their prairie habitats are limited to places like the Fort Lewis Military Reservation, the Olympia airport and W.L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. The remainder of their habitat has been plowed under, paved or converted to forest or nonnative plants.
From the critical habitat area proposed last year for the two species, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service cut nearly 5,000 acres for the butterfly and just over 7,500 acres for the lark. The agency also included a special rule that exempts nearly all agricultural and airport activities from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act.
“The streaked horned lark and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly are beautiful species that need our help to survive,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act has been more than 99 percent effective at saving species, but it needs to be utilized to its fullest extent if it is going to save these and other rare prairie species. I’m glad the lark and butterfly are finally protected, but disappointed the Fish and Wildlife Service is backtracking on the degree of protection they’re getting.”
Under the 2011 agreement with the Center, a total of 117 species have been protected, including the lark and butterfly, and another 63 have been proposed for protection.
The streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) is a small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or “horns,” on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its ruddy nape and yellow underparts. Formerly a common nesting species in grasslands and prairies west of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon, it was so abundant around Puget Sound that it was considered a nuisance by turn-of-the-century golfers.
The destruction of 98 percent of native grasslands on the West Coast, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. The lark is extirpated from the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, Rogue Valley in Oregon, and Canada. In Washington it currently breeds at only 10 sites, including Grays Harbor, Fort Lewis, the Olympia airport and islands in the Lower Columbia River. In Oregon the larks breed in the Willamette Valley and lower Columbia River, including at the Portland, Salem, Corvallis, McMinnville and Eugene airports.
Taylor's checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori) is a medium-sized, colorfully checkered butterfly with a wingspan of about 2 inches. It formerly occurred throughout the extensive grasslands, prairies and oak woodlands of Vancouver Island, the Puget Sound basin and the Willamette Valley. As this habitat has disappeared, so has Taylor's checkerspot. The butterfly is currently known from just 11 sites in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, including sites on the Olympic Peninsula, Puget Trough and Willamette Valley.
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