Letter-Writing Made a Difference Your Letters Needed to Help the Karner Blue Butterfly

by Lynne Jackson, Mar./Apr. 92

The Karner Blue has been proposed to be listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the butterfly is listed as an endangered species with a designated critical habitat, any developments proposed within the habitat would need to have a federal permit in order to be built. Obtaining a federal permit is a much more rigorous and difficult process to go through than the zoning changes or Planning Board approvals-and much less subject to local political whims.
The current proposal does not include critical habitat for the Karner Blue. The Federal Register states, “designation of critical habitat for the Karner Blue Butterfly is not presently determinable.”

Apparently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not aware that there is plenty of information available to determine that a minimum of 2000 acres of fire manageable Pine Bush is needed for the survival of the Karner Blue Butterfly. All of the remaining undeveloped Pine Bush bordered by Fuller Road to the east, Central Avenue to the North, Western Avenue to the South and Route 146 to the West should be designated as critical habitat.

Please send a letter before March 26 asking that the Karner Blue be listed as an endangered species, and the Pine Bush as a critical habitat. Write to the New York Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 100 Grange Place, Room 202, Cortland, New York 13045. The contact at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is Mark W. Clough at 607/753-9334.

If you would like more information or assistance with writing a letter, please call Lynne Jackson at 434-1954. The listing is very important to the survival of the Pine Bush. Please send a letter-it will make a difference! This letter writing campaign made a difference! The Federal Government listed the Butterfly as an endangered species on
December 14, 1992. The story is as follows:
Karner Blue Protected
Federal Listing Unexpected by Daniel W. Van Riper

The Environmental Protection Agency has placed the Karner Blue Butterfly on it’s register of endangered species, opening the way for the Federal Government to intervene in Pine Bush preservation cases. This listing protects not only individual butterflies, but also the habitats in which they are found, a major boost to efforts to preserve the Pine Bush.

The prohibition against harming the butterfly applies not only to federal agencies, but to every citizen of the United States. Violators of the Endangered Species Act, including developers, can be fined up to $500,000.

SPB member John Wolcott apparently was the first to make public the listing, calling local reporters on Saturday, Jan. 2, after receiving notice from the EPA in the mail. All persons who testified about the listing were given notification. Protection officially began on December 14, but state and local officials have not indicated if they have had prior notice.

An application for listing the Karner Blue as an endangered species was first made in 1977, but was turned down several years later. At that time the butterfly was still easy to find in the Pine Bush, and in other states. As their numbers declined as a result of illegal zoning changes by the city of Albany and other municipalities, the application was made again.

The EPA endangered species list was frozen during most of the Reagan-Bush years, ensuring that sensitive habitats would be destroyed without federal intervention. The application languished despite testimony by experts that a crisis was at hand, and a letter writing campaign by SPB members. The opening of the list in the lame-duck days of George Bush thus comes as a complete surprise.

The listing has come almost too late. Numbers are down alarmingly, and sightings of the butterfly last summer in the usual places were rare. It seems to be confined to isolated spots, some of which are cut off from the main pieces of preserve already in place. Ironically, one of the largest populations is on the Crossgates plot, a sad little “preserve” surrounded by a fence in the middle of the Crossgates Mall parking lot. This plot was created as a condition of building the Mall, which destroyed 180 acres of prime butterfly habitat.

Recognizing that the Federal government under the new administration will likely take a dim view of destroying an endangered species’ habitat, the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation has decided to hold up a permit for expansion of Crossgates Mall, subject to review over whether or not construction will affect the parking lot plot.

Coming just days after the listing was made public, this is the first instance of building being halted in the Pine Bush as a consequence. This is especially welcome news, because this expansion was considered by SPB to be too far from the main preserve sites to warrant use of limited resources to fight.

The EPA plans to monitor habitat sites in the Pine Bush, and has indicated that it wants to begin a program of repopulating the butterfly. Some Excerpts from the Federal Register The good news for Lycaeides melissa samuelis is made official by nine pages in the Federal Register, Vol. 57 no. 240. Here are some relevant quotes:

“The US Fish and Wildlife Service determines the Karner blue butterfly to be an endangered species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973… The action is being taken because of constriction of the species range and the declining size of remaining populations. The primary cause of past and threatened losses is habitat modification and destruction due to development… and fragmentation of remaining habitat…

“Over the past 100 years, the butterfly numbers have apparently declined rangewide by 99 percent or more. Over 90 percent of the decline occurred in the last 10 to 15 years. It is now extirpated [wiped out] from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio…

“The NYS Natural Heritage Program maintains a state list of approximately 50 individual butterfly sites, comprising about ten site-clusters, all found in the area known as the Albany Pine Bush and at scattered locations extending about 40 miles to the north. Once the site of a massive Karner blue population, the Albany Pine Bush is the locality from which the butterfly was first scientifically described…

“(Scientists) described the decline in the Pine Bush population as dropping from numbers of 80,000 in 1979, to around 1,000 in 1987, to 100-200 in 1990…

“Two commentators stated the need to clarify how prohibitions against ‘take’ would be applied… The Service responds that ‘take’ as defined in Section 3(18) of the Act means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct, and the prohibitions against ‘take’ are applicable to any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States…

“Such (an) act may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering. Since some form of the Karner blue butterfly (eggs, larvae, or butterfly) is present at all times in habitat where it occurs, prohibitions against ‘take’ would apply to activities involving both the butterflies or the occupied habitat.” Back to Karner Blue Butterfly Article Page