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Critical habitat proposed for Laguna 
Mountains skipper butterfly

CARLSBAD, CA (12/14/05) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a proposed rule to designate approximately 6,662 acres of land as critical habitat for the federally endangered Laguna Mountains skipper (Pyrgus ruralis lagunae), a species of butterfly. Areas proposed for designation are limited to portions of the Laguna and Palomar Mountains in San Diego County, California.

Proposed critical habitat for the Laguna Mountains skipper is identified in two units, divided into seven subunits. The first unit includes 2,899 acres of land around Palomar Mountain Peak and the second unit covers 3,763 acres of land in the vicinity of Laguna Mountain Peak. Habitat features in these areas consist of openings in forest habitat, meadows, and wet areas such as seeps or springs. These areas also support populations of Cleveland's horkelia (Horkelia clevelandii), the primary host plant for the butterfly.

Two of the subunits proposed for designation are not known to be occupied by the Laguna Mountains skipper, but the Service has determined these areas contain all of the features that contribute to the conservation of the species and may be important for population expansion and enhancement.

More than half of the land proposed as critical habitat is managed by the U.S. Forest Service's Cleveland National Forest and approximately 2,394 acres of the proposed critical habitat is on private land. A small amount of proposed critical habitat is on State owned land.

The Laguna Mountains skipper is one of only two subspecies of Pyrgus ruralis, and does not co-occur with the other member of the subspecies. A small butterfly with a one inch wingspan, the Laguna Mountains skipper exhibits a fast, erratic flight pattern. Females lay their eggs on the outer leaves of a host plant - primarily Cleveland's horkelia, but also sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla gladulosa). It takes approximately 12 to 14 days for the eggs to hatch and about seven weeks for the emerging pupa to reach adulthood. 

Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until February 13, 2006. Written comments on the proposal should be submitted to the Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92011. Comments may also be submitted by facsimile to (760) 431-9624, or by electronic mail to FW8pchskipper@fws.gov. Written requests for a public hearing will be accepted until January 27, 2006.

This proposed rule was prepared pursuant to a court order resulting from a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2003. In a stipulated settlement agreement, the Service agreed to propose critical habitat for the Laguna Mountains skipper on or before November 30, 2005, if the agency determined that critical habitat for this species was prudent. Today's proposal complies with the terms of the settlement agreement.

A copy of the proposed rule and other information about the Laguna Mountains skipper is available online.

The Service is preparing a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat that will be released for public review and comment at a later date.

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