To Hell With Butterflies . . .
We Need Room for More People in California

Report by Paul Watson
Sierra Club Director

Growing human population fueled by immigration is the single greatest threat to endangered species survival in California.

This month, scientists are searching for two of California's rarest butterflies, the tiny Hermes copper and the Thorne's hairstreak.

The two butterflies are among the two dozen endangered and threatened species that scientists are tracking that were impacted by fires in 2003 that scorched 740,000 acres of California land.

Two of Southern California's rarest butterflies, the tiny Hermes copper and Thorne's hairstreak, could become the first known species in the state to be driven into extinction after the sweeping autumn wildfires.

Endangered gnatcatcher birds are expected to have a food shortage in 2004. Mountain yellow-legged frog populations were victims of the fires in the San Bernardino Mountains, followed by devastating mudslides. The numbers have been severely diminished.

The wildfires however are merely the final blow. The real reason these species are in danger is diminished habitat caused by escalating development and increased migration and population increases.

If the butterflies do disappear, they will be part of a surge of extinctions worldwide because of encroaching development, some scientists say.

"The Hermes copper is one of the most unique butterflies in North America ... millions of years old," said Greg Ballmer, a UC Riverside entomologist.

"It's just like the Pleistocene era. The humans came in and all the large mammals disappeared from North America. The woolly mammoths, the saber-toothed cats, the camels, the wild horses.... We wiped out species ... and we're doing it again."

In a 1998 Harris Poll, nearly 70% of biologists surveyed said that a mass extinction is underway.

Fire is a natural, even necessary part of the Southern California landscape. But so much of the region's habitat has been developed that there may no longer be room for species on the edge to make a comeback.

Southern California is recognized by academics as one of the world's top "biological hot spots," with the second-highest number of endangered species in the U.S. after Hawaii. San Diego County, with 75 endangered species, tops all other counties in the nation, federal and county officials said.

San Diego County will conservatively add a projected 1 million additional people and 300,000 homes by 2030, according to regional and state studies.

"This is an area with a very sensitive environmental community ... but the reality is we're also not meeting our housing needs," said Paul Tryon, chief executive officer of the Building Industry Assn. of San Diego in an interview with the L/A. Times.

Protection is desperately needed against development and human population pressures.

Such protection would ban landowners or developers from damaging or destroying the butterflies and their habitat without permits. Policy planners say in the current national and local political climate, it is hard to envision any such protections being adopted.

"Let's put it this way: The developers will win, and the species will lose," said Steve Erie, director of urban studies and planning at UC San Diego. "Butterflies don't vote."

It is because butterflies don't vote that there is a need for organizations like the Sierra Club to champion endangered species against all threats and immigration from abroad and from other states into the State of California is a major threat to species survival.

It is a choice between being politically correct or being ecologically correct. The Sierra Club must place ecological priorities before social priorities.

The fact is that California and especially Southern California is already heavily over-populated. Every new human being born or moving into the region places an additional burden on the environment and contributes to diminishment of species and habitats.

It's all well and good to have empathy for humans desiring a better life in America but should human desires outweigh the right and the need for other species to survive?

Or do we just say, "to hell with butterflies and frogs, we need room for more people, more houses, more malls, more industry?"

How much more must the natural world sacrifice to make room for expanding numbers of human beings? When will real decisions be made that will address human population stabilization? When California reaches 50 million people or a 100 million people?

When do social demands, including the rights of immigrants yield to the needs of endangered and threatened species?

It is because of questions like these that the Sierra Club must participate in a debate over population and immigration and the impact on habitats and species.

Do we remain neutral in the face of the extinctions of the Herme's Copper and the Thorne's Hairstreak?

Or do we have the courage to bring this controversial and taboo subject into a national debate?

Are we environmental leaders or are we merely bearing witness to mass extinction and habitat diminishment?