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US Fish and Wildlife declares San Diego Hermes copper butterfly a threatened species

A Hermes Copper butterfly, which is found primarily in San Diego County, California, is pictured, April 4, 2011.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Hermes Copper butterfly, which is found primarily in San Diego County, California, is pictured, April 4, 2011.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday declared one of Southern California's rarest butterflies — the Hermes copper butterfly — as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The agency also designated 35,000 acres in San Diego County as protected critical habitat.

"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. "We are also issuing a special rule that will provide flexibility for our partners engaged in important wildfire prevention and species research activities while providing protection for this rare butterfly."


The rule tailors protection for the species while allowing activities that do not harm recovery, including habitat restoration, species research and management of fuel breaks to reduce wildfire threats. The Center for Biological Diversity had been fighting for nearly 30 years to gain protection for this species.

"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. "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 center said that increasingly frequent and severe wildfires have also ravaged the butterfly's primary source of nectar, the California buckwheat. The butterfly declined from at least 57 historical populations to only 26 populations in a survey this year, and the USFW warned that a single large wildfire could wipe out all remaining populations of the butterflies.

The protected habitat is in three areas:

  • Lopez Canyon, which includes acreage within Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve;
  • Miramar/Santee; and
  • Southern San Diego.