North Dakota seeks delay of 39K acre butterfly habitat

North Dakota's governor and its entire congressional delegation is asking the Obama administration for more time to comment on pending rules that would turn thousands of acres of the Upper Midwest into a butterfly habitat.

In late October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a 53-page rule that would designate two species of butterflies as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It also issued a 121-page rule that would designate a habitat for the two butterflies, the Dakota skipper and the Poweshiek skipperling.

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The second rule proposes to designate a total of 39,000 acres in North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin as a habitat for the two species.

"Under the Endangered Species Act, any species that is determined to be a threatened or endangered species shall, to the maximum extent prudent and determinable, have habitat designated that is considered to be critical habitat," the rule said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service created a 60-day comment period for both rules, which expires on Dec. 23. But North Dakota Gov. John Dalrymple (R ), Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D) and John Hoeven (R ), and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) last week asked for a 30-day extension.

In a joint statement released last week, these officials said the creation of "critical habitat" for the butterflies could affect local economies and major industries.

"We believe granting this extension to the comment period would help ensure that public input is maximized and the effects of this proposal are fully understood," they wrote to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe.

"The listings provided for under these rules, as well as the critical habitat affected should the rules be implemented, would impact a significant amount of private, state, and federal lands. If these critical habitat designations are put into place, they could have a negative impact on local economies by hampering such activities as farming, ranching and energy development."

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it has not analyzed the economic impact of its proposed rule, but is getting to that.

"In order to consider economic impacts, we are preparing an analysis of the economic impacts of the proposed critical habitat designations and related factors," it said. "We will announce the availability of the draft economic analysis as soon as it is completed, at which time we will seek additional public review and comment."