Petition filed for state protection of Quino checkerspot butterfly
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Endangered Habitats League (EHL) petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to save this animal from extinction.
Once one of Southern California’s most common butterflies, the Quino checkerspot has been driven to the edge of extinction by unrelenting sprawl. It has continued to decline since federal listing in 1997, and faces an existential threat to a vital San Diego population from ill-conceived development projects. The petition, filed on June 29, 2020, was primarily authored by scientists at CBD. EHL contributed information about development threats and lack of effective conservation under existing programs.
Paradoxically, this small creature needs large and intact landscapes to survive. It thrives when there are stable “metapopulations” with numerous small loci of suitable habitat spanning a range of microenvironments. During times of drought, only a single site may survive to repopulate an otherwise decimated population. If development intervenes, such critical sites may be lost, leading to population extirpation, even though the butterfly's host plants remain. This has happened throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The butterfly is barely hanging on in southern San Diego County and parts of western Riverside County.
While the Quino is a “covered species” under the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Conservation Program, that plan has been unable to acquire occupied Quino habitat, which continues to be developed and degraded. In San Diego, the Otay Ranch Villages 13 and 14 would remove so much occupied Quino habitat that collapse of this core population would be inevitable. The federal government appears incapable of issuing “jeopardy opinions" that recognize and halt such threats. However, a state listing would bring higher conservation standards than does federal law and is a glimmer of hope.
It will be several months before we know if the Fish and Game Commission will grant “candidate” status and therefore interim protection.