Conservationists Sue to Protect Sand Mountain blue butterfly in Nevada

Mike Leski peterlep28 at
Fri Jan 6 16:35:36 EST 2006

Yea, this is a sticky one.  Last year I was in Reno, and trying to identify leps that I might pursue come the summer season.  This blue got my attention.  I researched the internet, be that as it may, and found that the good ol' boys had identified a number of sites where they thought the lep could fly, based on host plant records.  I had planned to visit one or two, but fortunately spent the summer in far better lep territory.
  Now, I have no idea who is right, concerning the need to restrict this spot from 4-wheelers.  However, the part I didn't like from the story Mike forwarded was the 'found nowhere else' comment about the host.  Is this true?  I kind of doubt it.  Is it true of the butterfly???

Paul Cherubini <monarch at> wrote:
  Is there another side to this story? To find out I visited off highway
vehicle websites and found this informative website:

Scientists, OHV Users Cooperate to Protect Unprotected Butterfly

Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly (actual size is one-half of the size
shown).Sand Mountain. It's name is its description &shy;a 500 foot high,
nearly barren sand dune east of Fallon, Nevada. The dune, which
has been designated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
as an OHV (off-highway vehicle) use area for a number of years,
is an OHV enthusiast's dream. Recently, it almost became the site
of controversy regarding endangered species habitat and OHV use.
But thanks to what was then an unusual cooperative effort among
the off-roaders, NBI scientists and government land and wildlife
management agencies, the potential controversy evaporated.

On Sand Mountain's fringes lies the only known habitat for the Sand
Mountain Blue Butterfly (Euphilotes rita). One spring day in 1994 the
BLM received a complaint about damage to the butterfly's habitat,
particularly its host food plant, Kearney buckwheat (Eriogonum
nummulare). The complaint was referred to BLM Lahontan Resource
Area Wildlife Biologist, Jim Ramakka.

"Jim Morefield [Nevada Natural Heritage Program botanist]; George
Austin, [Nevada State Museum entomologist]; Janet Bair [U.S.
Fish and Wildlife biologist] and I went out to survey the site and
observed a limited supply&shy;about eight patchy acres&shy;of Kearney
buckwheat," said Ramakka. The survey team also observed wide
OHV tire marks impressing the sand all around the plants that were
still standing near the OHV staging area and parking lot.

To the scientists' knowledge, this degraded area was the single
habitat in Nevada for the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly. They
discussed the implications, possibly even an emergency listing of
the butterfly as threatened or endangered. "But we wanted to confirm
that the habitat was, in fact, as limited as reported, before any
management decisions were made," said Ramakka. While discussing
the scene, Ramakka spotted OHV user Steve Tank standing nearby,
who appeared to be interested in the conversation about the apparent
conflict with OHV use and what appeared to be a limited habitat
for the butterfly's buckwheat. Ramakka drew Tank into the
conversation, the implications of which sent Tank off
on his OHV in search of more of the elusive plant.

In the middle of reviewing old plant inventory data and preparing
for a strategy meeting to protect the Sand Mountain Blue habitat,
Ramakka received a call from Tank. "He said he had found
hundreds of a similar 'reddish plant' north of where we were
looking," said Ramakka. "We checked it out, and in fact, found
thousands of the shrubs all around the mountain on the interface
of the uplands and the dune."

Ramakka had enough information to convince U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service that an emergency listing without additional
field work was premature. But the question remained if the
butterflies were there and in what numbers. He contacted
Peter Brussard, who offered NBI's help in assaying the area.

NBI co-director Peter Brussard nets Sand Mountain Blue
butterflies to verify population size.Sand Mountain Blues
emerge as adults in the dead heat of summer. In August
1994 NBI co-director Dennis Murphy from Stanford's Center
for Conservation Biology, got maps of the newfound
buckwheat habitat from Ramakka and set out to find the
butterfly. He did indeed find them emerging from every patch
of plant he looked at. The potential for an emergency listing
of the butterfly as endangered was obviated.

In early 1995 Ramakka gathered together a number of
interested wildlife agency representatives and OHV users
to discuss the discovery that the butterfly populations appeared
healthy and the species was not going to be listed as endangered.
Together they would plot a future for the habitat at Sand

"The meeting was very positive," said Ramakka. "The OHV
representatives indicated that they wanted to make Sand
Mountain a showcase for their sport and offered their
help in managing the area."

The BLM is photomonitoring the area and plans to continue
coordinating with the OHV people. This past August, Brussard,
BRRC's C. Richard Tracy and Assistant Research Professor
Hugh Britten verified that there were large numbers of
Sand Mountain Blue Butterflies emerging from the
buckwheat shrubs.

Brussard's status report states that the original site where the
butterflies were discovered by Austin may be difficult to
conserve because of the heavy OHV activity nearby, but "
long as the foodplant remains as abundant as it is now in the
overall dune area, we see no particular threat to the continued
existence of the butterfly even if this particular patch of 
foodplant disappears." In short, with everyone working together,
the butterflies and OHV use can exist in the same area.

Here is a more recent article that explains how the initial
effort to get all parties to working together, has had some 


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