The possibility of adding two local butterflies to the federal Endangered Species List could further complicate development plans and mosquito control efforts on Big Pine and No Name keys.
The U.S. Fish Wildlife Service is proposing that the Florida leafwing and Bartram's scrub-hairstreak be designated as endangered. Both species have been candidates for such listing since 2006.
Fish Wildlife also proposes designating as critical habitat locations where the butterflies now exist and where they historically have existed and could be reintroduced. The butterflies are only found in South Florida, including on Big Pine and No Name keys.
Fish Wildlife is seeking new information from the public and the scientific community that will help in making a final determination about the proposed listing and critical habitat designation.
The proposed designations are part of a Fish Wildlife Service effort to resolve a series of lawsuits concerning the listing of the two species.
"Our land-use practices in South Florida have eliminated these butterflies from most of their former range," said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the groups that sued. "But it's not too late to help these beautiful little creatures. Protection under the Endangered Species Act will guarantee that we're taking the necessary steps to ensure their survival."
The butterflies have been in decline due to habitat fragmentation and destruction, including development and the burning of foliage, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Fish Wildlife will decide whether to extend endangered species protection for these butterflies after reviewing population and habitat assessments.
If the two butterflies are listed and critical habitat is designated, the service will work with Monroe County and Florida Keys Mosquito Control District officials on plans to conserve habitat, according Fish Wildlife.
The Monroe County Commission discussed the issue last month, and county staff is researching the potential impacts on development. The possible listing already has the Mosquito Control District limiting where it sprays pesticides on Big Pine Key. Both butterflies live in pine rockland habitat, specifically in areas with pineland croton plants.
Public comments on the proposed designations can be submitted through Oct. 15. Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by Sept. 30.
Comments should be submitted by one of the following methods:
• Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov.
• U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.
All comments, including personal information, will made be available on http://www.regulations.gov.