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Forum News Service, Published October 23 2013

Feds propose critical habitat sites in ND, Minnesota for 2 butterfly species

A butterfly found in the Dakotas and Minnesota is one of two species being considered for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday.

The agency has proposed listing the Dakota skipper as a threatened species as a result of steep population declines. Also found in South Dakota and Canada, the Dakota skipper no longer occurs on half of the sites it previously inhabited.

The second species, the Poweshiek skipperling, is being proposed as endangered, Fish and Wildlife said. Once found in eight states and Canada, the Poweshiek skipperling now occurs only in a few native prairie remnants in Wisconsin, Michigan and Manitoba. According to the Service, surveys show the Poweshiek skipperling now is gone from nearly 90 percent of the sites it once inhabited.

Both butterfly species rely on prairie habitat that’s being threatened or degraded, the agency said.

In an effort to reverse the trend, the agency is proposing to designate 54 tracts, ranging from 31 acres to 2,887 acres, in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota as critical habitat for the Dakota skipper.

There are sites in northwest Minnesota including Polk, Norman and Clay counties, while the North Dakota sites are in the southeast, north-central and western parts of the state.

Critical habitat is defined by the Endangered Species Act as areas that contain habitat features that are essential for the conservation and recovery of a listed species, which may require special management considerations or protections.

For the Poweshiek skipperling, Fish and Wildlife is proposing to designate 63 tracts, ranging in size from 23 acres to 2,887 acres in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin as critical habitat. The sites in Minnesota are in the western part of the state south of U.S. Highway 2, including tracts in Mahnomen, Norman and Clay counties. The North Dakota tracts are limited to three sites in the far southeast part of the state.

Under the Endangered Species Act, endangered species are plants and animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. Threatened species are those that may become endangered in the foreseeable future. The Endangered Species Act protects listed species from take – which includes harming, harassing, injuring or killing – and conserves habitat designated as critical for the species’ survival and recovery.

A critical habitat designation imposes no requirements on state or private lands where no federal funding, permits or approvals are required.

The agency also is proposing a special rule for the Dakota skipper that would provide flexibility for landowners and land managers who have Dakota skippers on their property. For example, the special rule would allow incidental take of Dakota skippers as the result of routine ranching activities such as construction of fences, corrals and watering facilities; haying and mowing; and in some areas, grazing.

A series of public information meetings are scheduled in November, including a meeting from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Souris Valley Suites in Minot, N.D.

Fish and Wildlife will be taking comments on its proposal for the two butterflies through Dec. 23. More information is available online at fws.gov/midwest/endangered.