Groups seek to protect rare butterfly whose only home is San Juan Island

San Juan Island is the only home to the island marble butterfly. Populations of the species disappeared from Canadian islands in the 1900’s and were rediscovered on San Juan Island in 1998. The species has suffered further decline since rediscovery and faces limited protections.

In the grasslands on south San Juan Island, several patches of bright yellow flowers are fenced off from the rest of the landscape.

The flowering plants are considered weeds by many, but to the island marble butterfly, they’re imperative to the species’ survival. This landscape is the only place the shrinking island marble butterfly population is known to remain, the Skagit Valley Herald reports.

“The populations have constricted pretty dramatically to the point that this is the only home of this butterfly on the Earth,” Ted Thomas of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said while walking through the American Camp portion of San Juan Island National Historical Park.

For about 15 years, various groups have fought for the butterfly to receive federal Endangered Species Act protection. On April 4, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service deemed the butterfly a candidate species.

That means the species qualifies for protection, but the agency does not have the resources to complete the listing process, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

Naming the island marble butterfly a candidate species is not good enough for some.

“I was very surprised by their decision,” said Scott Hoffman Black of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which has twice sought protection for the butterfly. “There is really one secure population left of this animal on the planet. It is much more endangered than many species that are listed.”

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