August 11, 2014 / 6:26 PM / 3 years ago

Endangered Florida butterflies to get federal protection

ORLANDO (Reuters) - Two species of butterflies that live in South Florida will be listed as endangered under federal law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday.

The official listing of the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, expected on Tuesday, will make it illegal to capture or harm the butterflies, and their larvae.

Both species were common around Miami and the Florida Keys until development wiped out much of their natural habitat, according to agency spokesman Ken Warren.

“We do believe their numbers are extremely low,” Warren said.

The agency also designated a total of 11,539 acres in seven separate parcels in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties as critical habitat for the butterflies. Most of the acreage – 85 percent – is in federal or state hands.

A butterfly species known as Bartram's scrub-hairstreak is shown in this undated handout photo provided by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service August 11, 2014. REUTERS/Holly Salvato/United States Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout via Reuters

Private owners of the remaining 15 percent of the acreage will not be greatly impacted unless they plan development that requires federal funding or authorization, Warren said.

The critical habitat designation will go into effect on Sept. 11, Warren said.

The endangered listing comes as a result of a 2011 settlement of lawsuits by conservation groups, which argued that 757 wildlife species nationally had been flagged by the agency as likely endangered but never acted upon, according to Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Some potentially endangered species had not been given a full scientific evaluation and final determination for decades, said Lopez, whose group aims to protect species from extinction.

In all, Lopez said 128 species that were part of the lawsuit have been listed as endangered since the settlement. 

Editing by David Adams and Susan Heavey

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