A Butterfly Could Cancel Plans to Build New MTB Trails at a Resort Near Las Vegas

A planned trail project north of Las Vegas could fragment the habitat for an endangered butterfly species.
The Mount Charleston blue butterfly. Photo: Andrew, Sky Island / Flickr

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.”