Critics say ski area plan near Vegas harms rare butterfly

Conservationists are worried about an expansion plan at Lee Canyon Ski Area in southern Nevada’s Spring Mountains because they say it threatens habitat for the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, shown. The insect was listed as endangered in 2013.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists are raising concerns about an expansion plan at a southern Nevada ski resort that they say overlaps with habitat for an endangered butterfly.

The plan includes miles of new mountain biking, skiing and hiking trails along with a zip line, mountain coaster and expanded parking lot, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

A new building with food, beverages and equipment rentals also is included in Lee Canyon Ski Area’s master development plan intended to keep up with growing demand at the 785-acre resort that opened in 1964. Since 1970, Clark County’s population has grown from about 273,000 to more than 2.2 million.

Opponents say the improvements are a threat to the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, which was listed as endangered in 2013.

“They are going to crisscross the habitat with mountain bike trails,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “That will irreparably fragment the habitat. The blue butterfly lives its entire life cycle within a very small radius.”

The butterfly lives in the Spring Mountains, the same range as the ski area, and has endured threats to its habitat ranging from wildfires to invasive species to climate change.

Proponents say trail development will reduce tree cover in a way that helps the butterfly, which needs habitat with openings in the tree canopy.

“We feel positive about the potential new trails offer to the Mount Charleston blue butterfly’s habitat,” marketing director Jim Seely said of the project, which would adversely affect about 19 acres of butterfly habitat, according to environmental documents.

The proposal is outlined in a draft Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement the U.S. Forest Service issued this past week.

The documents kick off a 45-day comment period, which is limited to people who have already formally commented on the project.

Donnelly criticized the timing of the release of the documents in advance of a formal analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of how the plan might affect the butterfly.

Jonathan Stein, the Las Vegas-based project leader for the Forest Service, said Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service staffers have been working in tandem throughout the process.

He said the Fish and Wildlife analysis is expected to be complete before the close of the comment period and is unlikely to contain any surprises.

“We are in constant discussion with them,” Stein said. “We would hope they would have told us if there is anything they find kind of glaring.”

The 10-year project is scheduled to begin in 2020.

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(1) comment

Grant Spellerberg

Folks have to understand that butterflies are a barometer in the environment. Anytime you make changes in the ecosystem it affects more than one species. Butterflies may get the attention (and rightfully so) but they are the canary in the coal mine. We need to pay attention!

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