BLM considers purchase of Nevada land for rare butterfly

Associated Press

1/13/2002 07:35 pm

The Bureau of Land Management is considering the purchase of an 80-acre parcel of private land north of Reno to help protect a rare butterfly.

Under the plan, the BLM would pay $300,000 to rancher Robert Marshall for his land in Warm Springs Valley and $100,000 for 25 acre-feet of annual water rights to enhance butterfly habitat.

Marshall, owner of Intermountain Cattle Co., is offering to sell the land in a move he hopes will allow him to proceed with plans to export water from the area for municipal use.

The valley is one of only two known homes of the Carson wandering skipper, which was given emergency protection under the Endangered Species Act in late November.

The butterfly also exists near Honey Lake in California’s Lassen County. Widespread development has killed off the insect in Carson City, where it was first discovered.

Walt Devaurs, a BLM wildlife biologist, said Marshall’s proposal to sell the land probably offers the greatest good for the butterfly.

The skipper is a tiny, tawny-orange butterfly that is no bigger than a thumbnail and whose adulthood spans a mere two weeks.

“I think with the property being in federal ownership and with the water secured, it would protect the site for the skipper pretty much in perpetuity,”he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

While it’s an encouraging development, the proposal may not be enough to avoid the skipper’s permanent listing under the Endangered Species Act, said Bob Williams, Nevada supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“When you boil it all down and look at the status of the species, it is extremely rare … and vulnerable,”he said. “I think we will have a very difficult time stepping away from its listing.”

The Nov. 29 emergency rule gives the skipper special protection for eight months while evaluation of a permanent listing continues.

Federal officials sought emergency protection for the butterfly in part because of Marshall’s plans to export groundwater from Warm Springs Valley, Williams said.

They’re concerned that diversion of water from the area would lower the groundwater table, killing off salt grass the skipper needs as a food source.

Should the land and water rights be conveyed to the government, Marshall said, he sees no reason his separate water exportation plan can’t proceed.

“We shouldn’t have any problem at all,”Marshall said.”We will have secured the entire impacted area _ anything that has anything to do with (the skipper).”

If secured by BLM, the 80 acres of private land would be added to about 60 acres of adjacent federal land already designated as an area of critical environmental concern.