An Earth Day gift for dragonflies: federal government doubles Hine's Emerald Dragonfly habitat protections in the Midwest

Hines Emerald Dragonfly (Carol Freeman)

I first started writing about the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, a truly beautiful creature found only in the fens, bogs, and forest of the Midwest, in 2007, shortly after NRDC launched its Chicago office.  At the time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had just proposed giving additional protections to 13,000 acres of dragonfly habitat under the Endangered Species Act.  Unfortunately, the habitat proposal excluded all National Forests where the dragonfly could be found.  This left no additional dragonfly habitat protections in Missouri or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

That didn’t sit well with NRDC or our allies--not only did these exclusions hurt the dragonfly, but they also threatened to set a dangerous precedent that could have resulted in National Forest lands evading the reach of one of the Endangered Species Act’s central provisions.

In 2008, NRDC, along with Center for Biological Diversity, Northwoods Wilderness Recovery, the Michigan Nature Association, Door County Environmental Council, and the Habitat Education Center, sued the Fish and Wildlife Service.  We settled the case in 2009 when the federal government agreed to reconsider these exclusions and submitted formal comments to the Service last year (last Earth Day, in fact).

Well, today the government released its new designation of “critical habitat” for the dragonfly.  It’s a vast improvement over the last version.  Here are the highlights:

  • The overall designation has doubled from 13,000 acres to more than 26,000 acres;
  • The previous exclusions of all dragonfly habitat in the Hiawatha National Forest (Michigan) and Mark Twain National Forest (Missouri) are gone.  Habitat in both national forests are now protected;
  • An additional 147 acres of habit in Door County, Wisconsin (Kellner’s Fen) has been protected; and
  • The Service has formally confirmed that modifications of groundwater recharge areas that affect dragonfly critical habitat will be subject to review under the Endangered Species Act.

These are important and much needed safeguards.  So hurray for the dragonfly and happy (belated) Earth Day.

white-tailed sea eagle by Hilary Chambers (via Flickr)