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SAN FRANCISCO— The Bush administration today refused to extend the protections of the Endangered Species Act to the rare Sand Mountain blue butterfly, despite the fact that it has steadily declined in numbers and its habitat is rapidly being destroyed. Conservation organizations vowed to continue to fight for federal protection of the butterfly, whose unique habitat is being ripped up by off-road vehicle use. The species at Sand Mountain is found nowhere else in the world.

The Sand Mountain blue butterfly habitat, including its host plant, the Kearney buckwheat, has been fragmented and degraded by increasing off-road vehicles at Sand Mountain sand dunes near Fallon, Nevada, over the past 25 years. The Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association have long sought limits on off-road use to protect the butterfly’s remaining habitat.

In the decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged the precarious status of this rare butterfly: the extreme habitat fragmentation that has occurred since 1978 due to off-road route proliferation, the fact that destruction of the remaining Kearney buckwheat habitat poses a potentially significant threat to the butterfly in the foreseeable future, and the ongoing threats that such destruction presents to the continued existence of the butterfly. Still the Service determined it would not list the butterfly, based largely on its reliance on a conservation plan adopted last year by the federal agencies, off-road groups and county officials.

Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said her group would continue to press for listing of the butterfly. “We have a finding based on a conservation plan that is politically, rather than science-based. The excessive route system allowed by the plan reflects more concern for promoting off-road recreation than for ensuring viability of the butterfly.”

The plan allows much of the existing fragmentation of butterfly habitat to continue by authorizing 21.5 miles of routes, including many routes crisscrossing the best butterfly habitat in the northeastern portion of the species’ range, and fails to provide dedicated funding for ongoing studies of the status of the butterfly. The off-road routes differ little from the voluntary route system that was put in place in 2003 and which had high levels of non-compliance by off-road vehicle users, documented by Bureau of Land Management’s own monitoring.

“The Bush administration’s decision not to provide protection for this rare, endemic butterfly ignores the scientific evidence,” said Lisa Belenky, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Federal land managers have already allowed off-roaders on Sand Mountain to destroy more than half of the butterfly’s habitat; the protections of the Endangered Species Act are desperately needed to preserve the remaining habitat and save this species from extinction.”

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