- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The federal government has added two Upper Midwest butterfly species to its list of threatened and endangered species, pleasing conservationists but worrying farm groups who say it could make it harder for their members to earn a living off the land.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday named the Dakota skipper as threatened and the Poweshiek skipperling as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Both of the inch-long, brown-and-orange butterflies were once found in eight Midwestern and Plains states, but their populations declined due to several reasons, including the loss of native prairie vegetation and agriculture, the agency said.

“We recognize the reason we still have any Dakota skippers or Poweshiek skipperlings on the landscape at all is the conservation ethic of ranchers who have had the foresight to conserve grasslands in the Upper Midwest,” Tom Melius, Midwest regional director for Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement. “Our hope is to continue to work with landowners and partners to conserve these butterflies and the valuable habitat they depend upon.”

Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, praised the listings. In a statement, she said that “protecting the last high-quality prairie habitats for the butterflies will keep these special places safe, along with all the other plants and animals that need them to survive.”

But U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he wonders if the listings will even help the butterflies, and he worries the move will hurt the farming, ranching, energy and transportation industries.

“This is most alarming since no studies have been done to estimate the value the public places on preserving the two butterflies nor any examination of how their decline or extinction would affect our ecosystem,” he said.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association worries about harm to private property rights, Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson told The Bismarck Tribune.

“We think this will have implications for those who make their living on the land,” she said.

The South Dakota Farmers Union and Farm Bureau both will be monitoring the upcoming designation of critical habitat for the butterflies, according to the Argus Leader newspaper.

“The devil is in the details with a recovery plan and a habitat area,” Farm Bureau Executive Director Wayne Smith said.

The Dakota skipper is found in western Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota and the eastern half of North Dakota. Small numbers of Poweshiek skipperlings survive Michigan and Wisconsin. It’s been several years since the butterfly has been seen in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas.

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