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Big Partnerships Help Even the Smallest Creatures
by Raechel Kelley
Photo Credit: Credit: J. and K. Hollingsworth, USFWS
A unique union formed between a utility company, a land preserve and two government agencies has created an impressive opportunity for conservation in New York.
National Grid, an electric and gas conglomerate, owns and manages rights-of-way in the upstate Capital District that run through the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and contain patches of wild blue lupine and other wildflowers—a coveted habitat for some uncommon wildlife. While National Grid serves millions of people in New York, as of October, they started serving another, much smaller crowd.
The company's rights-of-way have become a favorite spot for two rare butterflies—the Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) and frosted elfin (Callophrys irus). The tiny, bright Karner blue and the brown frosted elfin butterflies thrive only in these open areas with the wild lupine plant, which is their primary food as caterpillars.
Both species are protected by law—the Karner blue under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the frosted elfin under New York's Endangered Species Act. Both acts, through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have provided an opportunity for National Grid and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to partner in a habitat management project.
That partnership took a big step just over a month ago, when National Grid presented the commission with a $50,000 endowment to assist in their efforts to create and enhance land for the Karner blues on 23 acres (9 hectares) of National Grid property.
"The project is a solid example of public organizations and a private utility coming together for the conservation of one of the most rare habitats in the northeastern United States," says Christopher Hawver, executive director of the commission, which was created in 1988 by the New York State Legislature to protect and manage the precious remaining pitch pine and scrub oak barrens.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The project and partnership is grounded in an in-depth conservation plan finalized by National Grid this past July, when the Service issued National Grid a 50-year endangered species permit, called an incidental take permit, for both butterflies. In addition, the NYSDEC issued a similar permit under New York state law. To receive these permits, National Grid crafted a plan that would allow them to efficiently operate while preserving these precious species.
The plan includes an agreement with the commission for managing the 23 acres (9 ha) of rights-of-way, which borders a small population of Karner blue butterflies on the preserve. Neil Gifford, the commission's conservation director, says he hopes that the Karner blues will colonize the new habitat on their own. But if they don't, the commission raises Karner blues in captivity, which could support populating the right-of-ways. Gifford estimates that it will take three to five years to successfully colonize the Karner blues in that area.
This project is one of several ways that National Grid will contribute to conserving both butterflies, mitigating the construction and management activity that will eliminate 3.5 acres (1.5 ha) of the Karner blue's habitat and periodically impact an existing 34 acres (14 ha) of habitat during the 50-year permit. National Grid will create or enhance about 59 acres (24 ha) of habitat, and it will promote better habitat management in the areas near National Grid's rights-of-way. They have also agreed to reduce existing threats from off-road vehicles.
Gifford is thrilled about the new partnership and explains that he has been looking forward to teaming up with National Grid for a while.
"Having this power line running through the middle of the preserve generated some management challenges for us," says Gifford. "This management agreement is going to dramatically expedite our ability to use prescribed fire and improve the health of habitat adjacent to the utility line."
Raechel Kelley is an intern in the Service's Northeast Region External Affairs office
Editor's note: This article published originally on the Service's Northeast Regional blog.
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