by Sandy Sheridan Birk
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approved the final version of the Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan in August. Part I of the Plan describes the butterfly’s life cycle and ecosystem, as well as the threats to its survival*. Part II delves into the plan of action needed to reach the ultimate goal of de-listing the Karner Blue Butterfly (KBB) from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
Certain benchmarks must be reached to both reclassify the KBB to “threatened” and to de-list it entirely. To reclassify the KBB in the Glacial Lake Albany area, three viable metapopulations need to be established. A metapopulation exists when populations affiliated with particular sites (subpopulations) are distributed spatially, enabling a more connected and expansive habitat. The Albany Pine Bush currently hosts only subpopulations of the KBB.
Managing and monitoring the three metapopulations would then be essential, and are delineated in the Plan. Furthermore, population numbers have been prescribed. Viable populations must have “at least 3,000 first or second brood adults in the final year of evaluation and in four of the five years overall.”
In addition to meeting the reclassification criteria, de-listing the KBB requires that each viable metapopulation be managed and monitored for at least ten consecutive years. The USFWS estimates that full recovery of the KBB will take twenty years.
“ Management and monitoring” of the recovery initiative involves three main tasks. Establishing and maintaining a buffer against “threats to survival” of the KBB is imperative to their safety. Of course the insects must also have a suitable habitat in which to live and multiply. Furthermore, any declines in populations must be identified.
Both management and monitoring are metapopulation-dependent. Each metapopulation has different influences that affect its health. These conditions need to be identified and their effects determined. Any threats would then be the subject for mitigation strategy development to reduce the danger to the population.
Six tasks determined to be essential to the recovery of the KBB are described in the Plan. Each recovery unit is systematically addressed. The first task listed in the Plan is to “protect and manage” the insect and its territory. In New York, this means monitoring and documenting habitat degeneration so that hardier management can result.
The second task addresses translocation, which involves “movement of eggs, larvae, pupae, or adults from one location to another”. Translocation in the Pine Bush is considered a possible means for maintaining KBB populations. Translocation involves cultivating a population of butterflies in captivity. A fraction of their offspring would then be set free in a recovery unit in need of KBBs. The rest of the captive butterflies would stay in a nurturing state of confinement and continue to reproduce.
The Plan calls for the development and proper execution of translocation protocols. Translocation has been attempted in a few of the recovery units (before the Final Plan was issued). For example, eggs from the Saratoga Airport were reared in captivity and translocated to the Concord Airport in New Hampshire in 2001 and 2002. The progress of this initiative is still being monitored.
Task three involves continued development of contributing guidelines. Forest Management Guidelines originally developed in 1997 reported evaluated effects of management practices. In an effort to share experiences and outcomes, these guidelines are available to both wildlife managers and private landowners. Guidelines regarding biocide usage, such as herbicides and insecticides, also need to be explored and developed to prevent threatening the KBB and its habitat.
The fourth task identified in the Plan indicates the need for education about the KBB. Such an outreach promotes stewardship and is intended to reach landowners, schools, scouts, gardening clubs, as well as local government agencies.
The fifth task to help recover the KBB is to research the insects and their habitat. Priority research projects include determining the effects of habitat management, understanding propagation of KBB and lupine plants, and learning the causes of KBB declines.
The final task of the Plan is to track its progress. All research and outreach information about the KBB is collected by the Wisconsin branch of the USFWS, enabling a consolidation of resources to be available for review. Annual meetings of recovery team members will also be conducted to share progress, hurdles and ideas. Every three to five years, information-sharing meetings that include private landowners will take place. Every five years, the Plan will be revised and updated to “better reflect current conditions, and incorporate new research findings.”
The Recovery Plan is available on the web at http://endangered.fws.gov.