The first part of this series was printed in the February/March,
2005 newsletter and is a summary of a presentation given by Neil
Gifford at the October, 2004 SPB lasagna dinner.
The Karner Blue Butterfly Federal Recovery Plan has three
priorities. In New York State, scientists are focussing on
priority one, which is doing those things necessary to prevent
extinction of or the irreversible decline of the species,
everything from monitoring populations to creating and implementing
a management plan for the butterfly, to purchasing land.
The question for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission
to answer is, “how do we interpret this federal document and
implement it here, in the Pine Bush and bring recovery to fruition?”
There are three sub-populations left of Karner Blues remaining
in the Pine Bush: the Crossgates sub-population which contains
about 5.5 acres of occupied habitat; the Apollo Drive cluster
of sites, which makes up one sub-population (a patch of lupine
within 200 meters of each other is considered the same sub-population);
and the Curry Road site. Unfortunately, no butterflies have
been seen at the Willow Street site in the past four years.
The current challenge at the Commission is to ensure that
there is a suitable number of butterflies and a suitable
amount of occupied habitat. The current Preserve size is
about 2,940 acres; and the goal is to have 4,650 acres in
To meet this challenge more butterfly habitat must be created.
Five years ago, there was only 10-15 acres of occupied habitat.
The amount of habitat has tripled in the past couple of years.
Another goal is to have Karner Blue populations spread
throughout the Pine Bush preserve.
The Commission began monitoring Karner Blue butterfly sites
in 1991. The monitoring is financially supported by the NYS
Department of Environmental Conservation, The Nature Conservancy,
and US Fish and Wildlife Service. The method used to count
the butterflies is one where the researcher walks a set path
through a lupine patch and counts butterflies. These same
paths are walked in the same patches every year. This allows
comparison of numbers from year-to-year in the same patch.
The overall trend from 1995 to today is a decline in the
numbers. For example the Crossgates site is definitely in
trouble. Peek butterflies counted at this site in 1996 were
around 150. By 2002, 5 butterflies were counted in the spring
brood. The 18-theaters were built adjacent to the Karner
Blue butterfly hill in 1997 - it is after this time that
the number of butterflies declined so dramatically.
Typically, the summer brood of butterflies is three times
the number as the spring brood. Small populations, over-time,
are trending toward extinction.
Over the 13 years the Commission has been monitoring sites,
there are a number of things the Commission has noticed.
Populations of butterflies tend to fluctuate. Small, isolated
sites are extremely vulnerable to stochastic or random events.
The trick to surviving the bad years, is for a site to have
enough butterflies to deal with the stress.
Site expansion, making the sites bigger and connecting
them, is the key to survival of the butterfly. Currently,
there is not enough habitat, high-quality habitat or connected
habitat in the Pine Bush.
In regards to butterfly populations, how do we know where
we are and where we need to go? The Nature Conservancy has
developed a tool called “measures of success” that tries to
do just that. Starting with an ecological conceptual model of
the Karner Blue, which include dozens of factors affecting the
viability of the butter, we boil this down to a couple of key
critical factors that affect the survival of the Karner Blue
and that we can do something about.
The factor that we can do the most about in the short term
is habitat. The next question to answer is “what is it about
habitat that we need?”
Variables which affect Karner Blue habitat include availability
of larval food, shade, places to hide when raining, when
its cold, at night, and adult food.
The Federal Recovery Plan, as big as this document is,
gives general guidelines about habitat, but does not give
a lot of detail about how to achieve the goals. Here in
New York, the Commission is trying to develop a proscriptive
tool that will rate the status of individual habitat.
For example, the Federal Recovery Plan outlines that for
the overall population in Glacial Lake Albany to be considered
recovered, a certain number of viable populations are needed,
with each one needing to consist of a certain number of
subpopulations consisting of a certain number of individual
butterflies. These then need to be a certain distance from
a neighbor, and they need to be connected.
The Commission has adopted an adaptive management strategy
to develop a system to identify suitable habitat for the
Karner Blue. Scientists need to know what needs to be done
to habitat to encourage the butterflies. Is there enough
lupine? enough nector? too much shade? not enough shade?
After the habitat is modified, by planting lupine, nector
plants, grasses and other species, the number of butterflies
found will tell whether the modification worked or not.
So, what is being done for Karner Blue habitat restoration
in the Pine Bush? The Commission is focusing on the federal
strategy which includes expanding existing sites, linking
sites together, and building the population numbers up
to a point where they are viable. The habitats being worked
on now include high quality pitch-pine scrub oak barrens,
disturbed and invaded sites, such as old agricultural fields
such as is found in Guilderland and Colonie, and locust
clones found in high quality pine barrens around the existing
Karner Blue butterfly sites.
The Commission is developing a supply of local seeds, and
is not planting lupine from the Midwest or New Hampshire.
The Commission uses a large machine to plant the seeds.
This year 40 acres were planted, 55 acres are planned for
next spring. The plan is to plant 20-50 acres of Karner
Blue habitat for the next 20 years.
The habitat changes the Commission has implemented around
Apollo Drive site include removing locust clones around
SEFCU building and west of Rt 155. Next, they are planning
to plant lupine in high quality barrens that have been
burned. In the past, the controlled fires have not created
conditions that allowed lupine to be planted. This year,
for the first time they have. The site was burned and planted
lupine in July. By August, there were lupine seedlings.
Part Three will be published in the June/July Newsletter