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Collaboration Results in Success for a Small Butterfly
Photo Credit: V. Harke, USFWS
Concerned about the survival of the mardon skipper (Polites mardon), a small, non-descript butterfly of northwestern grasslands, biologists from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management formed an interagency workgroup in 2005. The skipper has a remarkably patchy distribution, found in only a few small areas that are widely separated from each other in Washington, Oregon, and California.
The focus of the workgroup, which has evolved over the years to include representation from a number of state and federal agencies, is uncovering existing conservation gaps and addressing them to help improve the status of the species.
Extensive surveys undertaken by the work group have revealed a number of new mardon skipper populations in the Washington Cascades, Oregon, and in coastal areas of northern California.
"Some of the sites we found supported hundreds, even thousands of individual butterflies," says Vince Harke, a biologist in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Washington Field Office, located in Lacey.
According to Harke, the majority of the sites occurred on lands managed by various federal agencies. This land affords the species a high level of protection without imminent risks of habitat loss from development or other impacts.
Photo Credit: V. Harke, USFWS
The butterfly was added to the list of candidate species for Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection by the Service in 1999. At that time, the U.S. Forest Service placed the species on the regional sensitive species list, which generated greater interest and funding for surveying efforts. In May 2012, after a year-long review of the best scientific and commercial information about the species, the Service determined that the butterfly did not warrant ESA protection.
"The number of documented locations of mardon skippers has expanded from less than 10 in 1999 to 165 in 2011," says Ted Thomas, a biologist in the Service's Washington Field Office. "We believe this additional documented habitat and the efforts our federal partners have made to address threats to the species are sufficient to secure the continued existence of the mardon skipper for the foreseeable future."
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, with support from the Xerces Society, developed management plans for most of the sites in southern Oregon, and have begun implementing extensive restoration efforts. In addition to creating strong interagency cohesion aimed at species conservation, the work group has used the expertise of many partners, including the Xerces Society, for the conservation of this once-rare butterfly species.
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