The federal government will make official Thursday its added protection for the streaked horned lark and the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. The bird and the butterfly rely on prairie habitat from the Puget Sound trough to the Willamette Valley.
Specifically, they thrive where there are fields of short grasses that aren’t too marshy.
That, says wildlife advocate Noah Greenwald, is why it’s so important that the grassy landscapes at Oregon and Washington airports are part of the critical habitat that will be protected under the designation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“They keep the fields well drained to keep waterfowl away and they mow the grass to keep it from getting too tall,” said Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
In all, the federal government is The agency is designating 1,941 acres of protected critical habitat for the butterfly and 4,629 acres for the lark in Washington and Oregon, including acreage at the Olympia, Portland and Salem municipal airports.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government on the grounds it was not sufficiently enforcing the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the center reached a legal settment in 2011, in which the service agreed to speed protection decisions for 757 species across the country.
Click here for more background from the Center for Biological Diversity on the latest decision on the two species. And read on for the center’s description of the streaked horned lark and the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.
The streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) is a small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or “horns,” on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its ruddy nape and yellow underparts. Formerly a common nesting species in grasslands and prairies west of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon, it was so abundant around Puget Sound that it was considered a nuisance by turn-of-the-century golfers. The destruction of 98 percent of native grasslands on the West Coast, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. The lark is extirpated from the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, Rogue Valley in Oregon, and Canada. In Washington it currently breeds at only 10 sites, including Grays Harbor, Fort Lewis, the Olympia airport and islands in the Lower Columbia River. In Oregon the larks breed in the Willamette Valley and lower Columbia River, including at the Portland, Salem, Corvallis, McMinnville and Eugene airports.
Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori) is a medium-sized, colorfully checkered butterfly with a wingspan of about 2 inches. It formerly occurred throughout the extensive grasslands, prairies and oak woodlands of Vancouver Island, the Puget Sound basin and the Willamette Valley. As this habitat has disappeared, so has Taylor’s checkerspot. The butterfly is currently known from just 11 sites in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, including sites on the Olympic Peninsula, Puget Trough and Willamette Valley.
— David Steves
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