Leona’s little blue butterfly one step closer to protection

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines that a Klamath County, Oregon butterfly may be threatened with extinction and initiates a status review

For immediate release:
August 17, 2011
Contact: Sarina Jepsen, Director, Endangered Species Program, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; 503-232-6639 ext. 112, sarina@xerces.org

PORTLAND, Ore. — In response to a petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized today that Leona’s little blue butterfly may qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

There is only one population of Leona’s little blue butterfly — found in the Antelope Desert in Klamath County, Oregon — known to exist in the world. This highly endemic species occupies a specialized niche on private timberland and a small part of the Winema National Forest.

“With only 2,000 individuals of this species remaining worldwide, a single event — such as a wildfire — could lead Leona’s little blue to extinction,” said Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director of the Xerces Society. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will provide a crucial safety net for this iconic species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service affirmed in today’s finding that this small butterfly is threatened by catastrophic wildfire and encroaching conifers. The Service recognized that Leona’s little blue butterfly is inherently more vulnerable to stochastic events because of the small size of its population. Today’s finding triggers a twelve-month status review by Fish and Wildlife Service biologists; the result of that status review will be a decision whether or not to list the butterfly as an endangered species.

“Leona’s little blue butterfly can be considered an indicator of the health of the Antelope desert,” said Ani Kame’enui of Oregon Wild, a co-petitioner. “This butterfly may be small, but by protecting its critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act, we will safeguard an essential piece of wild Oregon.”