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Tiny Nevada butterfly inches closer to listing as endangered species

Updated August 17, 2023 - 2:15 pm

A rare tiny butterfly found only in a remote stretch of Northern Nevada is inching closer to federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that listing the bleached sandhill skipper, a butterfly that typically measures under 2 inches long, as an endangered or threatened species “may be warranted.”

The agency now will have 12 months to determine whether to list the species for federal protections, a listing that could cause regulatory headaches for a geothermal power plant project that plans to tap into underground hot springs near the species’ lone known habitat at the Baltazor Hot Springs near the Nevada-Oregon border.

Ormat Technologies’ proposed power plant would sit outside those wetlands, but the Center for Biological Diversity argued in its petition to list the species for federal protection filed last year that tapping the underground hot springs for geothermal energy was likely to affect the flows into the springs that support plants the butterflies rely on for laying eggs or feeding on nectar.

“I’m pleased that the bleached sandhill skipper is crossing this important milestone toward getting vital life-saving protections under the Endangered Species Act,” Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The window of opportunity to save this butterfly is closing and this decision comes not a moment too soon.”

Ormat did not respond to emails seeking comment Wednesday.

Nevada currently has two endangered butterfly species: the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, which is found in the Spring Mountains, and the Carson wandering skipper, whose habitat stretches from the valleys south of Carson City up to Susanville, California.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com.

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