Saturday, January 28, 2012

Will New California Emission Standards Help Butterflies Survive?

The Tropical Butterfly House at the Pacific Science Center on the site of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair was a great place to completely change our environment last Monday. From the low 40˚F outside into the mid 80˚F inside. More significant was the change into a tropical garden full of butterflies.

Most of these I can't name, so I'll just show more pictures I took.  The butterflies were pretty obliging.
Owl butterfly
Everyday Green reports  on the decline of the butterfly.
Many butterfly species are on the verge of becoming or have already become extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 23 species in the country as endangered or threatened.
The declining butterfly population is a more serious problem than many people realize. Butterflies are an important part of the ecosystem. They play the critical role of pollinator in plant reproduction. Plus, their extinction upsets the natural order of the food chain. The decrease in the global number of butterflies is also an indication of some much greater problems going on in the world today. Some of the factors contributing to the declining butterfly population include the destruction of their natural habitat due to real estate development (about 6,000 acres a day), deforestation, global warming, and the widespread use of pesticides (especially those used for genetically modified crops).

It's not all bad news.  The Environmental News Network reports
Tropical Butterfly House from outside
"Some of Britain's most threatened butterflies are showing promising signs of recovery after decades of decline, according to a new study. The new data comes from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, which has been monitoring changes in butterfly populations across the United Kingdom since 1976. The biggest winner of 2010 was the wood white, which has suffered a 96% decline since the 1970s, but whose population increased six-fold last year. . .
. . . Although Britain's butterflies remain in long-term decline, the populations of three-quarters of threatened species increased in 2010. This change in fortunes has been put down to targeted conservation action, combined with better weather last year after a series of disastrously wet summers. Butterfly experts hope that if Britain experiences a similar summer this year, some of the country's most threatened species could continue to make a significant recovery. "

You can see the overall grim pattern with figures for different butterflies from a less optimistic British report released in December 2011 at Datablog.

Iowa appears to be losing one of their butterflies:
"The Poweshiek skipper is a small moth-like butterfly that was discovered in Iowa’s Poweshiek County in 1870. Now due to its plummeting population the Poweshiek skipper is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Experts are unsure why the butterfly’s population is declining. Theories include climate change, pesticides and prairie burns."

The Florida Museum of Natural History has a long Q&A about butterflies.  They tell us that butterflies belong to the familiy Lepidoptera which includes moths and means scaled wings.  They also answer the question:

"Q: Are butterflies important?

A: Yes! They are important as plant pollinators, second only to the bees. They also are very sensitive to the environment and thus are good indicators in assessing how healthy or unhealthy conditions are. They also have their own important place in the ecosystem like all animals do."

And the Florida website tells you how many of the 265,000 species of Lepidoptera are butterflies and how many moths. 

Given that global warming is listed as a contributor to the decline in butterfly populations, today's news in the LA Times, that California is imposing more stringent standards for auto emissions  is probably good news for butterflies - at least those still in existence by the time the regs take effect:

"California, long a national leader in cutting auto pollution, pushed the envelope further Friday as state regulators approved rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and put significantly more pollution-free vehicles on the road in coming years.

The package of Air Resources Board regulations would require auto manufacturers to offer more zero- or very low-emission cars such as battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles in California starting with model year 2018.

By 2025, one in seven new autos sold in California, or roughly 1.4 million, must be ultra-clean, moving what is now a driving novelty into the mainstream.

The board also strengthened future emission standards for all new cars, making them the toughest in the nation. The rules are intended by 2025 to slash smog-forming pollutants from new vehicles by 75 percent and reduce by a third their emissions that contribute to global warming." [The rest of the article is here.]

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