Endangered species status sought for 'iconic' butterfly that migrates through Lowcountry (copy)

Endangered species protections have been sought for Monarch butterflies, that migrate for thousands of miles across states. Provided.

Four conservation groups, including the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League, have asked a federal judge to let them testify against a lawsuit filed by 18 states to loosen Endangered Species Act "critical habitat" restrictions.

The group of states includes South Carolina. Their lawsuit challenges a new provision to the act that allows habitats to be designated as critical regardless of whether they currently are occupied by a creature or plant that the designation is designed to protect.

The rule is meant to provide migrating corridors that research shows are critical to the some species. The states argue the rule, put in place during the Obama administration, means that entire states could be designated as critical habitat, according to E&E News, an energy and environment publication. 

“In order to protect these rare and threatened habitats across the Southeast — our barrier islands, ocean beaches, wetlands, and forests — it’s imperative that these protections remain in place,” said Natalie Olson, Land Use Program director and staff attorney with the Coastal Conservation League.

“This attempt is the first salvo against the Endangered Species Act, so we are taking action to ensure these important protections stay in place for all who care about the South,” said Catherine Wannamaker of the Southern Environmental Law Center, another of the participating conservation groups.

Protections under the act have been credited for fostering the recovery of hundreds of species, from the bald eagle to the American alligator. The Center for Biological Diversity recently found that 85 percent of the birds in the United States protected by the act have stemmed population drops or even increased their numbers, faring much better than unprotected birds, which have declined an average of 24 percent since 1974.

The other conservation groups filing were Black Warrior Riverkeeper in Alabama and the national Defenders of Wildlife.

Legal challenges to the 40-year-old act have been ongoing, and it's coming under fire in Congress, too. About 140 bills to roll back the act's rules have been introduced in the last two-year session of Congress, and more than a dozen have been offered in the current session, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.