An unassuming creature might stand in the way of future mountain bike trails just north of Las Vegas.
Lee Canyon, a ski resort one hour northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada cleared an environmental assessment with the US Forest Service (USFS) on November 10 as part of a plan to add mountain bike trails, but a conservation agency sued a week after the announcement, claiming that the resort’s plans threaten the Mount Charleston blue butterfly.
The butterfly is native to the Spring Mountains, which the resort sits on, and it was designated as an endangered species in 2013. According to the plaintiff, the Center for Biological Diversity, the plans to install new MTB trails, zip lines, and a “mountain coaster” would open summer operations for the resort, which is the only time the adult butterflies are active.
“It’s outrageous that the government would allow the most important remaining habitat for this beautiful little butterfly to be turned into a downhill-sports amusement park,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “The Mount Charleston blue butterfly hangs by a thread, and we don’t intend to sit idly by while the Forest Service lets a multinational corporation destroy what remains of the species.”
The Center says that the trails would fragment the butterfly’s habitat. The wingspan on the Mount Charleston blue butterfly is about an inch wide and requires an open habitat to support its larval host plants.
These plants grow at elevations between 8,200 to 11,500 feet and according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, their habitats are threatened by “the implementation of recreational development projects and fuels reduction projects; and the increases in nonnative plants will increase the inherent risk of extinction of the remaining few occurrences of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly. These threats are likely to be exacerbated by the impact of climate change, which is anticipated to increase drought and extreme precipitation events.”
So while recreational trails could threaten the butterfly, they are hardly the only adversity the blue-winged insects face, as fuel reduction projects which mitigate fire risk are also a threat.
Lee Canyon Ski Area says that they trust the USFS’s decision though.
“The authorization of improvements at Lee Canyon is a win for local outdoor recreation and the environment,” said Dan Hooper, Lee Canyon’s general manager. “The most knowledgeable people in the field used the best available science. Through the EIS process, Lee Canyon was able to amend its plan, so it reflects responsible growth.”
The resort has had plans for expansion in the works for almost a decade. Lee Canyon is working on the projects in phases, but mountain bike trails are a high priority item for them. Like many areas around the world lately, they are seeing local demand for more recreation opportunities.
Lee Canyon says “locals are more interested than ever in engaging in outdoor recreation in both the summer and winter seasons at Lee Canyon. The projects’ environmental impact is on par with Lee Canyon’s ethos, and that’s essential.”
Seems unlikely trails would significantly impact the number of plants the butterflies rely on in the area, though I guess that’s hard to know for sure. The fact that an EIS was conducted and the project was ultimately approved by the USFS is reassuring at least.
Yeah, hard to say…it is definitely reassuring though I suppose the USFS can have an incentive if they’re leasing the land to the resort. I wouldn’t expect a ton of MTB trails at first for any resort, maybe a few at first and slow growth over time. Something like a “Mountain coaster” seems like it would have a much bigger impact.
I think Center for Biological Diversity is right here. (They have gotten it wrong in the past though.) If this creature had large range but was endangered, it might be a different story. But it only lives in one place. Are the trails going to do much? Not likely. But the trails plus all the other stuff, plus the “infrastructure creep” of resorts would.
I don’t like their rhetoric here and it seems like Patrick Donnelly as been reading too much anti-mountain biking BS, but its pretty clear to me: its one spot in the whole world. Can’t we just leave it alone?
In my neck of the woods “protecting endangered species” has far more to do with NIMBYism than any actual concern for endangered fauna. I wonder if there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Like maybe there are a bunch of mansions with great views that don’t want to see MTB trails?