ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has named the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly in New Mexico as an endangered species, an environmental group said Monday.
The orange and dark-brown butterfly is found only in high-elevation meadows in the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, most populations of the rare butterfly have been wiped out and just 23 adult checkerspot butterflies were detected in 2021 surveys.
Experts say only two small populations of the butterfly remain because most of its habitat has been degraded by grazing, development and motorized recreation.
In response to a 1999 scientific petition from the Center, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the butterfly in 2001 due to habitat loss from livestock grazing, drought and the suppression of historical low-intensity fires.
But the agency withdrew the proposal in 2004 and a subsequent 2009 listing petition was denied due to political pressure.
Environmentalists said the Fish and Wildlife Service did not propose critical habitat for the butterfly yet but intends to do so in a future rulemaking.