Protection of Species at Issue : Rancho P.V. Seeks Talks on Butterfly

Times Community Correspondent

The City Council will ask federal and state elected representatives for help in getting talks going between the city and two wildlife agencies over the plight of the endangered Palos Verdes blue butterfly, which some experts believe already is extinct.

Mayor John McTaggart said the city has made a number of unsuccessful attempts to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish and Game to define butterfly habitat locations so they can be protected. Construction of a baseball field at Hesse Park two years ago destroyed a habitat area and sparked a federal investigation.

"It's been a fiasco from the beginning," McTaggart said. "The city has tried to cooperate. Nothing was done to give us direction."

He said the city is asking federal and state representatives to compel the agencies to respond "to try and get this thing resolved."

Last year, a federal grand jury subpoenaed city documents relating to the ball field, which was built on the last known habitat of the blue butterfly. Unique to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the butterfly has been listed as an endangered species since 1980 and has not been seen since 1983. The Endangered Species Act allows for a fine of up to $200,000 and a prison sentence of up to a year for anyone responsible for destroying a protected species.

Sam Jojola, special agent with the federal fish and wildlife agency, acknowledged that the city has attempted to contact his agency about the butterfly. But he said the U.S. attorney's office has advised him against commenting on the park or the butterfly.

"We're not trying to stonewall the city," he said. "It's just that we've been advised by the U.S. attorney's office not to comment on the situation until the U.S. attorney completes his inquiry into the whole matter."

State fish and game officials who have been in contact with Rancho Palos Verdes were not available for comment.

Council members are concerned that the city could face a lawsuit over the Hesse Park ball field project, even though they contend the city was not entirely to blame for destruction of the butterfly habitat. Officials said city environmental work on the ball field was reviewed by the governor's planning and research office, which raised no objections. The city was told later the habitat had been destroyed, they said.

"It's a little difficult for us to deal with something as sensitive as this without having more support from those agencies whose job it is to monitor these things," McTaggart said.

McTaggart lamented that while environmental concerns and controlling development led to the founding of the city in 1973, Rancho Palos Verdes could be the first city in the nation to lose a species known to exist when it was put on the endangered list.

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