EDITORIAL: Butterfly flap

More jobs, more recreational opportunities and new tourism infrastructure for Southern Nevada could be blown away by the butterfly effect.

Part of chaos theory holds that an event as seemingly insignificant as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can have unimaginably significant consequences. No one understands this more than the operators of the Las Vegas Ski &Snowboard Resort.

The resort, which leases its land in the Spring Mountains from the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service, has submitted a 12-year plan to double the size of its operation by adding six ski lifts, more ski runs and more snow-making equipment. The plan also includes an expansion of the area’s mountain biking trails, which would boost summer traffic and appeal to recreational tourists. The downhill mountain biking park could be finished by 2016, if the Forest Service approves.

But there’s no guarantee that approval will come, thanks to the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean, the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service wants to expand the butterfly’s critical habitat by more than 5,500 acres. That designation would trigger an even more rigorous review of the resort’s development plans that could delay, scale back or entirely halt the development.

On Aug. 19, about 50 resort officials and recreation advocates attended a Fish &Wildlife Service meeting in Las Vegas to express their concerns about a habitat expansion. The existing critical habitat designation in the Spring Mountains threatens the resorts plans, so an expanded habitat will only make things worse.

We’d like to provide David Jaget, who leads the Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association, with a belated standing ovation for his remarks before the meeting. His organization builds and helps maintain the few mountain bike trails in the Mount Charleston area.

“They want to restrict human activity because of a butterfly we can barely find and know little about,” Mr. Jaget told the Review-Journal. “It’s fanatical. It’s absolutely fanatical the approach they’re taking.”

You’d think the Mount Charleston blue butterfly was the last of its kind, or at least the only butterfly species in Southern Nevada. But it’s not. There are other kinds of butterflies in the Spring Mountains, and the blue, like so many “endangered species,” is actually a subspecies. And we have no idea how many exist because their lifespan is about a week and it flies for just a month or two each summer.

But thanks to the overreaching Endangered Species Act, Americans will pay millions of dollars — in both taxes and lost economic opportunity — to take measures that are nothing more than wild guesses in an attempt to protect a completely unremarkable bug that almost no one will ever lay eyes on.

The Fish &Wildlife Service will accept public comments on the proposed critical habitat expansion through Sept. 15. Go to www.fws.gov/nevada to find out how. Taxpayers should demand that the interests of people — active enjoyment of the wilderness and economic growth — should trump those of insects.

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