LAS VEGAS — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to designate about 5,600 acres on southern Nevada’s Mount Charleston as critical habitat for an endangered blue butterfly.
The proposed area is about 99 percent federally owned land and is mostly within a designated wilderness, officials said. A 60-day public comment period on the proposal opened on Tuesday.
The delicate gray and baby blue insect, which is less than an inch long and is found in the upper elevations of Mount Charleston, is a distinctive subspecies of the wider-ranging Shasta blue butterfly. It was classified as endangered in October 2013 amid concerns that its habitat was being harmed by fires, fire suppression efforts and development.
Fewer than 100 butterflies remain, according to the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, which applauded the effort to designate land as critical habitat.
“The Mount Charleston blue is one of the most endangered butterflies in the world, and so it’s wonderful news that this animal is getting the habitat protection it needs to survive,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the organization, said in a statement.
The proposed habitat area contains host and nectar plants important to the insect, including Torrey’s milkvetch, mountain oxytrope, and broad keeled milkvetch. It also includes open areas that federal officials say are vital to the butterfly’s survival.
The designation would not halt all development, but could add extra scrutiny for projects in the area.
“A critical habitat designation does not necessarily restrict further development,” according the Fish and Wildlife Service website. “It is a reminder to federal agencies that they must make special efforts to protect the important characteristics of these areas.”