It's a fair bet that we're not going to run out of dune buggies or off-roaders anytime soon. According to environmentalists, however, we are going to run out of the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly, which has a life span of about a week. Back in April 2004, the environmentalists filed a petition to designate the Butterfly as endangered, but the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has done nothing in response, allegedly due to a lack of funds.
Today the Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of other environmental groups filed a Complaint against the USF&WS to force listing the Butterfly as an endangered species and designate the Sand Mountain Recreation Area in western Nevada as critical habitat.
The off-roaders counter that off-road space is just as endangered. AP writer Scott Sonner asked Richard Hilton of Reno, a board member of the Friends of Sand Mountain, a group of off-road enthusiasts, who replied, "If it did become listed, no telling what type of restrictions they could do out there."
According to environmentalists, critical habitat designations don't have any effect other than requiring those who want to use the designated area to consult with federal agencies regarding the consequences of use of the area. While technically that's true, it ignores the practical result: after a critical habitat designation, there is limited or no use of the designated area.
In a CBD press release on the Complaint, Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center who formerly worked with BLM said, “This attractive blue butterfly lives only at Sand Mountain, BLM [Bureau of Land Management] is unethically letting its dunes habitat be destroyed by off-road access, and the Bush administration won’t even follow the law to read our petition and consider protection. The Sand Mountain blue and other dunes endemics are a beautiful part the Great Basin Desert, and only the protections of the Endangered Species Act will ensure their survival and recovery.”
In this case, the Butterfly resides in the Kearney Buckwheat shrub, which covers about 1,000 acres of the 4,795 acre recreation area. While it may seem that distinction would allow off-roaders to co-exist on the remaining 3,795 acres, a critical habitat designation would likely encompass the entire site. Sometimes, although not always, the Service requires as much as a four-to-one designation to protect a species. That means here, there would be 795 acres left for off-roaders.
That leaves off-roaders to claim they're the ones that are becoming endangered. The Center for Biological Diversity claims that Nevada dunes are not the only ones that need protection. California's Tolowa Dunes State Park contains critical habitat for the snowy plower bird that will be damaged if off-roaders are allowed back on the land, according to the group.