Butterfly may cut off-road vehicle engines | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Butterfly may cut off-road vehicle engines

Karl Horeis, Tribune News Service

FALLON — Environmentalists want to draw a line on Sand Mountain by closing 1,000 acres to vehicles in order to protect a rare blue butterfly.

Immediate closure of 1,000 acres of Sand Mountain to off-highway vehicles was recommended by an ecologist with the Bureau of Land Management, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe and the Nature Conservancy during an April 30 meeting of the BLM’s Resource Advisory Council in Fallon.

The closure would cut 25 percent the area now open to off-road vehicles, though the area would still be open to visitors on foot.

According to Nature Conservancy representatives, vehicles pose a “critical threat to the viability of Sand Mountain and its unique suite of plants and invertebrates.”

The problem, they say, is loss of vegetative cover from RV use. The vehicles harm Kearney buckwheat, a food source for the Sand Mountain blue butterfly.

“As far as we know the (Sand Mountain blue butterfly) lives nowhere else and it depends on the Kearney buckwheat,” said BLM plant ecologist Dean Kinerson. “We’ve seen trail increases into Sand Mountain blue butterfly habitat since 1978 — particularly in the ’90s.”

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Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts like Jon Crowley, president of the nonprofit group Friends of Sand Mountain, acknowledge the species is sensitive, but are not ready to close the dunes.

“As far as we know, it doesn’t live anywhere else, but we’d like to see them verify that,” he said.

He said there are about 30 sand dune areas in Nevada, and claimed Kearney buckwheat lives in other areas. He would like to see those areas checked for the butterfly before parts of Sand Mountain are closed.

BLM has the authority to make emergency closures if it decides that resource damage is a problem. The decision would ultimately be made by John Singlaub, field manager at the Carson City field office, which covers the Sand Mountain Recreation Area.

The Resource Advisory Council created a subgroup to advise the bureau. It will include off-road vehicle users, environmentalists, biologists and representatives from the tribe. Crowley has applied to be a part of the group.

During the meeting in Fallon, the Friends of Sand Mountain urged the BLM to exhaust other means of stopping vegetation loss before limiting the use of off-highway vehicles at Sand Mountain. The group asks its members, described by the BLM’s Terry Knight as “an ad-hoc group of mostly OHV enthusiasts,” to tread lightly on the dunes. The first line of BLM’s mission is “to keep Sand Mountain clean, safe and open for future generations.”

Crowley’s group regularly cleans up Sand Mountain. They also distribute fliers and organize programs teaching off-roaders how to tread lightly.

“We’d like to see the BLM be a partner in that as well,” Crowley said.

He proposed that BLM take on buckwheat restoration projects like the one to help a sensitive blue butterfly near Los Angeles International Airport.

“That way we can help mitigate any habitat loss,” he said.

But butterflies and buckwheat are not the only concerns of ecologists at Sand Mountain.

Kinerson listed the Sand Mountain aphodius scarab beetle, the click beetle and two bee species, perdita hiagi and the perdita sp. nov. 3 as invertebrates living only on the Sand Mountain dunes. Some of these are so newly discovered scientists have yet to name them.

Other invertebrates, including the Hardy’s aegialian scarab beetle, the Sand Mountain pygmy scarab beetle, the Sand Mountain serican scarab beetle and the anthophora sp. nov. 1 bee live only on the dunes and in the area just south of there.

“You wouldn’t find these invertebrates anywhere else in the world,” Kinerson said. “If we lose them, they’re gone forever.”

Off-road enthusiasts were also represented at the meeting by the Off-Road Business Association, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs and the American Sand Association.

To serve on the BLM’s Resource Advisory Council subgroup, call BLM public affairs officer Mark Struble at (775) 885-6107.