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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CARLSBAD FWO: Palos Verdes Blue Butterflies Fly Once Again At Friendship Park
Region 8, March 6, 2010
Restored butterfly habitat among dense suburbia
(photo: Stephanie Weagley/USFWS
Restored butterfly habitat among dense suburbia (photo: Stephanie Weagley/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Butterfly in transportation container(photo: Stephanie Weagley/USFWS
Butterfly in transportation container(photo: Stephanie Weagley/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Palos Verdes blue released into restored habitat (photo: Stephanie Weagley/USFWS)
Palos Verdes blue released into restored habitat (photo: Stephanie Weagley/USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Stephanie Weagley, Carlsbad FWO
On March 6, 2010, federally endangered Palos Verdes blue butterflies were released into restored coastal sage scrub habitat at Deane Dana Friendship Community Regional Park and Nature Center (Friendship Park) located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, in San Pedro, California. Nearly three decades have passed since this butterfly was last observed here.

It was mid-morning on a cloudy and slightly breezy spring day when 60 male and 20 female butterflies—each bred in captivity, ventured into the wild for the first time. Event attendees watched in delight and amazement during the much anticipated and orchestrated butterfly release.

The butterflies were transported to Friendship Park from a captive-rearing facility at America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College. In the wee morning hours prior to the transport, each butterfly had been carefully placed inside individual, clear, small plastic cups covered in netting. The individual cups had been labeled with either a male or female gender symbol and then arranged in a group before being neatly placed within a pallet-type carrier.

Once at the restored site in Friendship Park, each butterfly was let out its cup and delicately placed onto the native host plants needed for survival: ocean locoweed and deerweed. These two plants are the only two plants where female butterflies lay their eggs; once the eggs hatch, the larvae (caterpillars) feed on them as their only food source. 

While the majority of the butterflies remained on the flowerheads or leaves of the host plants, spreading their wings to bask in the day’s warmth, others fluttered away seeking out nearby nectar sources to feed on. In order for this release effort to run smoothly, approximately 12-14 Moorpark College staff and students worked alongside Dr. Jana Johnson, Professor at Moorpark College and founder of the College’s Butterfly Project.

The butterfly release was the result of a multi-partnership effort consisting of many organizations and individuals, including the County of Los Angeles 4th District Office, Los Angeles County Dept. of Parks and Recreation, The Urban Wildlands Group, Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, Moorpark College, California Dept. of Fish and Game, Sapphos Environmental, and others. It was also a celebration of a 30-year Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) completed in January 2010 between the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

“This Safe Harbor Agreement will provide for the restoration, enhancement, and management of important habitat for the butterfly within Friendship Park,” said Jim Bartel, Field Supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office. “Combined with the butterfly release, it will help achieve the long-term recovery goals for the Palos Verdes blue butterfly in the wild.”

The 30-year SHA ensures a restoration of a minimum of 8 acres of habitat with potential conservation efforts connecting most remnant patches of native vegetation in Friendship Park for the federally endangered Palos Verdes blue butterfly. It is the only SHA designed specifically to conserve the butterfly through the implementation of a habitat restoration plan.

Dr. Eric Porter, lead biologist for the Palos Verdes blue butterfly at the Carlsbad Fish & Wildlife Office (CFWO), has worked closely with the County of Los Angeles over the years, and in particular with Joan Rupert, providing in-depth, valuable technical, regulatory and land management assistance needed to develop this SHA. “This voluntary agreement will enable vital coastal sage scrub habitat to be restored, a butterfly reintroduction, and a conservation management plan consistent with the County’s land management objectives at Friendship Park,” said Porter.

Palos Verdes blue butterflies are small, colorful, thumbnail-sized butterflies that were federally listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1980. They survive on pockets of habitat within highly urbanized southern California located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County—the only place where the species is found.

By 1983, biologists feared the Palos Verdes blue butterfly had become extinct when habitat supporting the only known population was developed. After years of conducting annual surveys, researchers could not locate the Palos Verdes blue butterfly; approximately ten years later, a small population was discovered at Defense Fuel Support Point San Pedro.

As a result of this discovery, many partnerships have been formed to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery this endangered species. The release of the butterfly back into the wild represents the achievements made from numerous collaborative efforts over the years. These efforts include the restoration of native habitat, raising butterflies in a Captive Rearing Program, and releasing them back to sites within its former range. 

The Palos Verdes blue butterfly was listed as an endangered species due to threats from habitat destruction through development, weed management practices, and non-native plant invasion. Today, non-native weed invasion and the lack of host plants available on restorable habitat continue to threaten the survival of the butterfly. Therefore, habitat restoration in conjunction with planting butterfly host plants – ocean locoweed and deerweed, is necessary prior to an effective butterfly reintroduction.

In 1995, as part of the original development plan for Friendships Park’s nature center, the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation coordinated with the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a habitat restoration component for the endangered Palos Verdes blue butterfly which had historic sightings at the Park. A re-vegetation program of native plant materials was incorporated into the overall landscape plan encompassing 8 acres of habitat dispersed throughout the Park; they were identified as key restoration areas.

With the help of Sapphos Environmental, Inc. and the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, the installation of coastal sage scrub, ocean locoweed, and deerweed began in 2006, taking approximately three years to complete. Ultimately, an additional 26 acres of non-native grassland is expected, to be converted to coastal sage scrub as funding becomes available.

Before the March 2010 butterfly release, Palos Verdes blue butterflies had not been seen in Friendship Park since 1981, but were historically known to exist here. Until recently, the only known population of Palos Verdes blue butterflies occurred at the U.S. Navy Defense Fuel Support Point (DFSP) site in San Pedro, CA, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, approximately 2.2 miles north of Friendship Park. The U.S. Navy funded the first Palos Verdes blue captive-rearing program facility on DFSP San Pedro in 1994, and the first release of butterflies into the wild occurred on this base in 2000.

The butterfly release at Friendship Park follows a 2008 butterfly reintroduction at Linden H. Chandler Preserve in Rolling Hills Estates where habitat restoration efforts have also taken place.

Future Palos Verdes blue butterfly recovery efforts will include continued rearing of butterflies in captivity for release back into the wild and additional habitat restoration and management efforts. The Service is currently working with the City of Rancho Palos Verdes to complete a Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan that will benefit the butterfly and other native wildlife and plants on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

 

Contact Info: Stephanie Weagley, 805-644-1766, stephanie_weagley@fws.gov