Panel considers ideas to protect butterfly at Sand Mountain
FALLON — A new advisory panel is considering ways to protect a rare butterfly that threatens to close a portion of Sand Mountain to off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
The Bureau of Land Management’s eight-member panel consists of three environmentalists, three off-roaders, one Fallon business representative and one Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe representative.
Elayn Briggs, BLM field manager, said the group is expected to submit its recommendations concerning the Sand Mountain blue butterfly by Sept. 1.
Until then, the agency expects to make no changes unless the insect’s habitat or numbers require emergency action, Briggs told the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard newspaper.
The summer is a slow season at Sand Mountain because of the heat. But the BLM expects to have its butterfly protection measures in place in the fall when crowds return to enjoy the massive sand dunes, Briggs said.
Concerned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will upgrade the insect’s status from sensitive to endangered and shut down all of Sand Mountain, the BLM has decided to take preemptive action to protect the butterfly.
Earlier this spring, a BLM biologist recommended closing 1,000 acres, or 25 percent, of the popular recreation area along U.S. 50 east of Fallon to off-roaders.
After a subsequent outcry by off-roaders and local business owners, the BLM took the matter to its Resource Advisory Council, which then formed the subgroup to represent various sides of the issue.
Off-roaders question the butterfly’s scarcity, and say stuffing an increasing number of visitors into a smaller space will create safety hazards.
Business owners are worried about losing some of Sand Mountain’s 35,000 to 40,000 annual visitors.
But environmentalists say the proposed closure would only affect vegetated areas and not the dunes themselves.
The problem, they say, is loss of vegetative cover because vehicles harm Kearney buckwheat, a food source for the blue butterfly.
BLM biologists say that as far is known, the butterfly lives nowhere else and depends on the buckwheat.