On August 19th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife had a general meeting at their field office to bring the public up to speed on the designation of the 5,500+ acres that will be assigned Critical Habitat that will protect the Mt. Charleston Blue Butterfly (plebejus shasta charlestonensis, Resource 1 & 2, below) and its habitat. The area that will affect cyclists is Unit 2 (image 1), which covers the planned bike park at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort (LVSSR). The USF&W explained much of what the butterfly is, the stages that it goes through, and the habitat that is needed to survive. To bring you, the active cyclist, up to date, I will explain a bit about the butterfly first.
The Mt. Charleston Blue (MCB) is a unique species, in that although it is part of a wide spread family of Blue Shasta (Resource 3) that is prevalent across the Northern Hemisphere and not endangered, this particular butterfly lives at a high elevation. It was named in 1980 (Austin) and over the years its numbers had fluctuated. What made this butterfly dwindle is not clearly stated in scientific fact, but it does differ in numbers from year to year based on conditions, and it does appear to be obvious that the lack of natural fires in the Spring Mountain range created a canopy that kept the specific vegetation (Torrey’s milkvetch, Resource 4) from flourishing (Resource 6). This plant grows in open meadows and since the lack of major fires at the elevation in which the butterfly exists, the ski resort is said to be one of its primary regions to live, although the most (total) sightings were on the North and South Loop Trails. The butterfly has a lifespan of 1-2 weeks, and in a 1-2 month window. The process to become a butterfly is very long, so in a nutshell (I’m not a scientist, biologist, botanist, nor chemist), the female lays its eggs on the milkvetch, the larvae falls to the ground on the dying host milkvetch, and throughout the winter and next year it becomes a butterfly. It takes approximately 1-2 years (yes years!) for it to get from egg to butterfly and it seems conditions almost have to be perfect.
According to the studies, sightings are difficult, and with a narrow window starting late June, the vast area of the Spring Mountain range (specifically Mt. Charleston in this case) must be accessed to research, study and count the MCB. Very little sightings have occurred at LVSSR, but that does not truly mean that the butterfly is gone. It’s a challenging thing to search over thousands of acres (many inaccessible) for a dime sized butterfly with eggs and larvae the size of grain of rice and come up with concrete numbers that prove that the MCB either is dying away or in a stage of resurgence. I understand that, it’s a needle in a haystack scenario. What is known is the areas that the milkvetch lives and thrives, and if that vegetation is present, then it can be, I guess you can say, assumed that the butterfly will be there sooner or later.
With the recent Carpenter 1 Fire, it can only be seen as a blessing in disguise for the MCB as it clears a canopy that was years in the making. For humans, we are lucky it did not kill anyone, but unlucky for the residents of Mt. Charleston who have to deal with the recent floods and mudslides. Opening the canopy in Unit 1, South Loop, should improve the habitat based on multiple studies from across the environmental industry, and UNLV biology professor Daniel Thompson, who completed a 4 year study of the MCB echoes these studies. In a Review Journal interview September 19, 2014 (reference 9) it states: “In recent weeks, Thompson and his research team recorded blues flying near and even over parts of the mountain burned in last year’s Carpenter 1 Fire, easing fears that the blaze might have wiped out a core group of the insects and destroyed prime habitat along the South Loop Trail” and he is quoted: “It was a big relief. It looks very likely that the burn will increase habitat over time.” In addition, in an NPR interview (resource 11), Dan Rubinoff, University of Hawaii professor of entomology, states: “It’s decades of fire suppression in the Mount Charleston area that have caused the trees to overgrow in places where this butterfly used to occur, which has boxed it into a few canyons where it’s still hanging on.” He adds, “You have a species that has evolved to be dependent on fire that may be exterminated by fire,”…”If this fire didn’t wipe out the butterfly, the fire will actually provide a lot more habitat for the milk vetch that the butterfly needs in the future,”…”So if the butterfly is still around, that fire might end up being a net gain for the butterfly.” A butterfly was seen in the burned area, the canopy is gone, and the habitat will survive. These are experts. They state facts. The MCB does not just life at LVSSR, that just happens to be the most accessible area for researchers and enthusiasts.
The photo images of the critical habitat maps show the designated area in relation to LVSSR. The pink areas are excluded areas because of high traffic and the inability to support the habitat of the MCB (milkvetch plant), which is the campgrounds. As you can see, Bristlecone Loop is clearly within the area and it has been documented that the host plant exists in the areas, specifically the Bonanza Trail (reference 11).
In 2011, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 (resource 14), amended the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 that limited recreation to Nordic and alpine skiing. The 2011 act specifically includes such activities as zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, disc golf courses and rope courses and reduces the amount of “red tape” that was placed on these resorts before. These types of activities are natural resource-based and bring in a vast amount of revenue to the local areas. This law sparked a shift in the management of ski resorts to the introduction of summertime activities such as bike parks. Like the bike park that is in planning right now.
But don’t fret. Our SW IMBA Director has been in talks with Fish and Wildlife on your behalf to understand if there is a way to exclude the area of the ski resort from the Critical Habitat and how we can intertwine the bike park with the habitat. We can’t make decisions, that’s up to LVSSR, Gravity Logic, and the US Fish and Wildlife, but YOU can be a voice of reason. During the meeting at the field office, the USFW wants YOUR input and comments as to why it the resort should be excluded, how we can work together, and what scientific studies/facts support your comments.
So, your biking community is asking you for help in submitting your comment to the US Fish & Wildlife in support of the proposed gravity bike park at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, designed and built by Gravity Logic. 5,500 acres will be designated as critical habitat for the Mt. Charleston Blue Butterfly. We are asking USFW to exclude the ski resort, approximately 700 acres, from this designation to allow the ski resort to build a bike park in accordance with the 2011 Law that allowed resorts to expand with fewer restrictions. We support the habitat of the Blue Butterfly and its existence, but understand that the recent fires can indeed help the butterfly flourish and survive. Please use the link below, search the docket number, and click “comment”. Voice your comments with supporting scientific studies and facts! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Search docket number: FWS-R8-ES-2013-0105
- Autin, 1980; http://images.peabody.yale.edu/lepsoc/jls/1980s/1980/1980-34(1)20-Austin.pdf
- Charleston Blue Butterfly; http://butterfliesofamerica.com/plebejus_shasta_charlestonensis.htm
- Shasta Blue Butterfly; http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/butterfly/Plebejus/Shasta
- Wildflowers of Colorado; http://wildflowersofcolorado.com/html/pg__7_blue_-_purple.html
- Pinyon 2011 study; http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/Depts/dcp/Documents/Library/dcp%20reports/2011/High_Elevation_Butterfly_Survey_Fin_Rep_570C_Oct2011.pdf
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife, MCB; http://www.fws.gov/nevada/nv_species/mcb_butterfly.html
- News Release, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, July 14, 2014, Critical Habitat Proposed for Endangered Mount Charleston Blue Butterfly; http://www.fws.gov/nevada/highlights/news_releases/2014/nr-mcbb_pch-final7-14-14.pdf
Federal Register, July 15, 2014, Dept of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Docket No. FWS–R8–ES–2013–0105; Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Mount Charleston Blue Butterfly; http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-07-15/pdf/2014-16355.pdf
Federal Register, September 19, 2013
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of
Endangered Species Status for Mount Charleston Blue Butterfly; Final Rule; http://www.fws.gov/nevada/nv_species/documents/mcbb/FR_2013_22702.pdf
Federal Register, September 9, 2012, Dept of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Listing of the Mount Charleston Blue Butterfly as Endangered and Proposed Listing of Five Blue Butterflies as Threatened Due to Similarity of Appearance; http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-09-27/pdf/2012-23747.pdf
- RJ Article,
Skiers, cyclists fear butterfly effect, 8/19/2014 http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/science/skiers-cyclists-fear-butterfly-effect
- RJ Article,
Butterfly enthusiast fails to net goal on Mount Charleston, 7/31/2011; http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/water-environment/butterfly-enthusiast-fails-net-goal-mount-charleston
Forest Service barely avoids a blue butterfly blunder, 6/6/2014 http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/water-environment/forest-service-barely-avoids-blue-butterfly-blunder
- NPR Article,
Nevada Wildfire Could Snuff Out A Rare Butterfly. 7/23/2013; http://www.npr.org/2013/07/23/204865648/nevada-wildfire-could-snuff-out-a-rare-butterfly
- NPR Article,
- Effects of fire management practices on butterfly diversity in the forested western United States http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320702003567
- SKI AREA RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITY ENHANCEMENT ACT OF 2011 http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-112hrpt164/pdf/CRPT-112hrpt164-pt1.pdf
- IMBA; Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking: Science Review and Best Practices, https://www.imba.com/resources/research/trail-science/environmental-impacts-mountain-biking-science-review-and-best-practices
- IMBA, Bike Parks and Freeriding; https://www.imba.com/resources/freeriding
- MTB Parks; http://mtbparks.com/