SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking protection for the imperiled Iowa skipper butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Iowa skipper, a bright yellow-orange butterfly, is being driven to the brink of extinction primarily due to industrial agriculture's toxic pesticides and destruction of habitat.
The 100+ page filing, known as an ESA "listing" petition, was supported by more than 250 scientific sources. FWS now has 90 days to make an initial determination on whether ESA protections may be warranted. Today's petition marks the second legal filing for CFS's extinction crisis program: in the first, FWS determined that ESA protections were warranted for Monarch butterflies.
"The Iowa skipper is hanging on by a thread due to a barrage of toxic pesticides, struggling for survival in small patches of prairie habitat in a dead zone of industrial agriculture," said Jenny Loda, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety. "Insecticides directly harm the skipper and herbicides destroy the plants the skipper relies on for food and shelter. The Iowa skipper is yet another canary in the coal mine—part of an extinction crisis driven by industrial agriculture's monoculture crop systems, massive increases in pesticide spraying, and "fencerow to fencerow" habitat destruction. We are calling on the Biden Administration to take swift action to protect this beautiful and ecologically important little butterfly before it is too late."
Because of widespread habitat destruction from industrial agriculture, the Iowa skipper has declined throughout its range across the Great Plains and Midwest, spanning 14 states from eastern Montana to Illinois and south to Texas. The skipper is no longer common or secure in any state and the species may have already disappeared from Iowa and Minnesota, where it has not been seen since 2009.
The primary threat to the skipper's survival is the massive destruction of its prairie habitat, which has been largely converted to intensive row crop agriculture, and the increasing use of toxic pesticides accompanying that conversion. As much as 99 percent of the U.S.'s 148 million acres of tallgrass prairie habitat has been destroyed. Recent habitat losses stem from biofuel demand driven by federal policies that promote fuel made from corn, high crop prices, and government subsidies. New technologies are also making habitat conversion easier, allowing corn and soybeans to be grown across a wider range of climates, spreading more harmful synthetic pesticides.
Industrial agriculture's spraying of toxic pesticides is a major factor contributing to the decline of the Iowa skipper, due to these chemicals' direct harm to the butterfly and its surrounding habitat. The skipper's survival is also threatened by climate change, invasive species, and the vulnerability of its small, isolated colonies.
The Iowa skipper is considered an indicator of high-quality prairie habitat. The skipper's habitat varies across its range and includes shortgrass, mixed, and tallgrass prairies. Prairie-specialist butterflies, including the Iowa skipper, have experienced disproportionately large declines compared to other groups of butterflies and insects.