Federal officials have formally listed the Miami blue butterfly, which is found on Boca Grande and Marquesas Keys, as endangered on the Endangered Species Act.
The action permanently protects the butterfly and follows an emergency listing, enacted on Aug. 10, which temporarily protected it for 240 days.
The listing is effective today, upon publication of the final rule in the Federal Register. Under the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species is any species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The Miami blue butterfly's small numbers of colonies, small population size, restricted range, and loss of genetic diversity caused the species to be listed, U.S. Fish Wildlife Service officials said.
The small, coastal, non-migratory butterfly's geographic range once extended from the Dry Tortugas north along Florida's east and west coasts to about St. Petersburg and Daytona Beach, but it is now restricted to a handful of remote islands within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. There was a colony in Bahia Honda State Park, but it was wiped out by iguanas and a cold snap in 2010.
The butterfly's habitat and range are threatened by destruction, modification and curtailment from human population growth, associated development and agriculture, and environmental effects resulting from climate change, U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials said.
With the listing, it is illegal to kill, harm or otherwise take the butterfly, or to possess, import, export or engage in interstate or international commerce of the species without authorization in the form of a permit from the federal government. Listing also focuses attention on the needs of the species, encouraging conservation efforts by government agencies, conservation groups and other organizations and individuals.
Butterfly expert and conservationist Marc Minno opposes the listing, arguing that it addresses only butterfly collecting and not factors that impact habitat such as pesticides, the trimming of vegetation and iguanas and other predators. The rules will make it harder for butterfly researchers to do their studies, he said.
"They want to make it look like they are doing something, when actually they are doing nothing," Minno said. "It's just anti-collecting. ... This whole thing is a mess. These are the same agencies that bungled it for years."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials waited too long and did not do enough when the iguanas were eating Miami blue larvae and the butterfly's habitat in Bahia Honda State Park in 2009, Minno said.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife contends that collection of the butterfly is a significant threat, and existing regulations do not provide adequate protection.
This year, the managers of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife refuges in the Keys partnered with North Carolina State University to conduct a year-long population study of the blue in the refuge islands, Refuges Manager Anne Morkill said. Researcher Nick Haddad visits the islands twice a week and has been finding colonies there every time he visits, Morkill said. The study will be used to develop a recovery and conservation plan, which includes a captive breeding program.
University of Florida butterfly researcher Jaret Daniels requested to do a captive breeding program using butterflies from Boca Grande the Marquesas Keys, but refuge managers wanted more research on the colonies first, Morkill said.