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Butterfly prompts Girl Scouts to close camp near Las Vegas

Here’s a rare case where little girls and butterflies do not go well together.

The Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada is abandoning its longtime camp in the mountains west of Las Vegas, in part because of restrictions placed on the property to protect the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly.

Since 1953, the camp high in Lee Canyon has served as a summer getaway for local Girl Scouts, but the group says it can’t maintain the aging facility — let alone improve or expand it — without hiring costly experts to navigate all the red tape associated with the federally listed species.

Linda Bridges, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, said the camp needs more than $1.5 million in renovations just to bring it up to the standards required by all of the agencies involved. She said several camp buildings have structural issues and the site’s underground water vault is deteriorating, which has cut off on-site water service.

“We are effectively ceasing operation of Camp Foxtail,” Bridges said.

Plan review required

The group plans to hold a ceremony Nov. 4 to mark the closure of the camp, which welcomed more than 19,000 campers over the past 64 years. More than 100 people have already signed up to attend the ceremony, Bridges said.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Erica Hupp said the camp has been operating on federal land within the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area under a special-use permit. The Forest Service is now working with the Girl Scouts to determine the future of the facility, she said.

“All U.S. Forest Service special-use permit holders are required to comply with county and federal regulations,” Hupp said in an email.

As part of that requirement, permit holders must submit the plans for any project or site improvement so the Forest Service can determine how it might impact the “surrounding natural resources,” including any threatened or endangered species, Hupp said.

A few weeks of flight

The Mount Charleston blue butterfly was added to the list of endangered species in September 2013. Two years later, federal regulators designated more than 5,200 acres in the Spring Mountains as critical habitat for the insect. Foxtail Camp is surrounded on three sides by critical habitat but lies just outside the designated area.

The Mount Charleston blue is a distinctive subspecies of the wider-ranging Shasta blue butterfly. The males sport iridescent blue-and-gray wings to attract mates, while the dull, bluish-brown females flutter about depositing tiny eggs on two small, ground-hugging host plants.

The adult butterflies only live a week or two, generally taking flight between late June and the end of August to mate and lay eggs during the short window of warm weather in the high country.

The exact population is unknown, but there have been years when surveyors couldn’t find any of the insects.

Seeking a new camp site

The listing of the butterfly is also complicating expansion plans at the Lee Canyon ski resort, just up the road from Camp Foxtail. Over the next 15 years or so, the resort wants to add new ski runs, chairlifts and summertime attractions, including a gravity powered “mountain coaster.” That proposal must pass an federal environmental review.

A wide swath of the ski area is located within the butterfly’s core habitat, though researchers have said Lee Canyon’s expansion plans could benefit the species if done correctly.

Bridges said the Girl Scouts’ long-term goal is to build a new camp somewhere else in Southern Nevada. Right now, they’re searching for a potential site and discussing how to raise money for the project.

“We’re early in the process,” Bridges said.

In the meantime, the local Scout council is working on setting up a temporary camp in the area.

Bridges said the local group has also partnered with its “sister council” in Redlands, California, to use its Girl Scout camp in the San Jacinto Mountains west of Palm Springs, about 270 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

The Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada is offering to provide round-trip transportation to any of its 3,350 local members who would like to attend the camp in California.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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