butterfly
Walt Whitman

Marc Minno, a Florida entomologist, spent six years surveying the state’s butterfly population, before he reported to the government that he’s pretty darn sure two of the species he was looking for — the Zestos skipper and the rockland Meske’s skipper — are gone for good.

But because of the bureaucratic … let us call them “quirks” of the process for identifying and dealing with endangered species, the state government doesn’t want to declare them extinct.

The Miami Herald writes:

[Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Warren] said the butterflies Minno believes are gone also fall in a bureaucratic “gray area.” None of them were yet in the official pipeline for listing. Only two, the Schaus and Miami blue, have endangered status. Two others, the Florida leafwing and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, have been elevated to “candidates.” The agency won’t add something just to turn around and stamp it extinct.

Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty explains what exactly that means:

[B]ecause these species were never listed as threatened or endangered they now fall into a limbo where the government won’t declare them extinct either.

Kafka would have a field day with this: It’s like saying that since a prisoner was never registered as an inmate, he can’t have died in jail. If we keep all the species in the world off the endangered species list, then they can’t go extinct.

What, no one’s seen them for decades? They’ll turn up eventually.