by Photo courtesy of John Martin, USFWS

The Hermes copper butterfly is declared as one of Southern California’s rarest butterflies and was announced on Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. 

This comes after nearly 30 years of petitions and lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) also designated a critical habitat with 35,000 acres of land in San Diego county, including Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve; Miramar/Santee; and Southern San Diego.

"Without Endangered Species Act protection, the Hermes copper butterfly would surely be pushed into extinction by Southern California's rampant development, wildfires driven by climate change and invasive plants,'' said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the center. 

Activities that do not harm recovery including habitat restoration, species research and management of fuel breaks to reduce wildfire threats are included with tailored protections for the species. 

​​"The Hermes copper butterfly is one of several threatened or endangered butterflies in our region,'' said Paul Souza, regional director for the agency's California-Great Basin Region.

The center said wildfires have increasingly burned through key Hermes copper habitat, which has put an end to many remaining butterfly populations. The USFWS warned that a single large wildfire could wipe out all remaining populations of the butterflies

The center said it’s survival depends on dwindling patches of its host plant, the spiny redberry. Increasingly frequent and severe wildfires also ravage the butterfly’s primary source of nectar, the California buckwheat. Drought and development have also destroyed dozens of historic populations.

"I'm relieved to finally see this beautiful little butterfly and its habitat protected.'' The small, bright yellow-orange, spotted Hermes copper is found only in San Diego County and northwestern Baja California, Mexico, where it inhabits coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats. Its survival depends on dwindling patches of its host plant, the spiny redberry.

The Hermes copper inhabits coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats only in San Diego County and northern Baja. According to the center, the butterfly declined from at least 57 historical populations to only 26 populations in a survey this year. 

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