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An endangered Fender’s blue butterfly rests on a Kincaid's lupine, a native prairie flower in western Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Prairie restoration efforts by the Willamette Valley Refuge Complex and private land partnerships have helped boost the butterfly’s numbers
An endangered Fender’s blue butterfly rests on a Kincaid's lupine, a native prairie flower in western Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Prairie restoration efforts by the Willamette Valley Refuge Complex and private land partnerships have helped boost the butterfly’s numbers.
Credit: Cheryl Schultz

Saving a Butterfly

In Oregon's Willamette Valley, a fragile creature's survival has hung on refuge biologists' being able to woo private landowners to join in habitat restoration efforts. It's paying off, and now the Fender's blue butterfly (Icaricia icarioides fenderi), a federally endangered species, is enjoying its highest population in more than a decade.

"It's an exciting story," said Steve Smith, private lands biologist for the Willamette Valley Refuge Complex, including Baskett Slough, Ankeny and William L. Finley refuges. "Valley-wide, Fender's blues now number as high as 6,000, up by more than 1,500 from estimates in 2005, not bad for a creature thought to be extinct until 1989."

The small blue butterfly, with a wing span of one inch, lives only in native prairie, home to its host plant, Kincaid's lupine — also a federally listed threatened species — and native wildflowers that provide the butterfly with nectar. But that prairie has shrunk because of farming, development and a century's suppression of fire. Left alone, most of the undeveloped prairie land would turn to forest.

So refuge staff have interceded, aggressively mowing, pulling or chemically treating weeds on refuge land; harvesting trees and staging controlled burns. They've also persuaded 65 to 70 private landowners to preserve prairie remnants on their land in the same manner for the benefit of the butterfly.

Working in partnership with state and university scientists, refuge biologists have identified areas of key habitat, protected core populations of the listed species and returned thousands of acres of habitat to their original condition. They have cultivated native forbs and expanded seed collections to ensure genetic diversity. They've not only doubled known parts of the Fender's blue butterfly population, they have discovered new populations of the species. To learn about the species, visit http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/FendersBlueButterfly/default.asp.

For their efforts, Service staff at the Willamette Valley Refuge Complex and their partners recently won a Recovery Champion award from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The awards recognize Service employees and colleagues for contributions to the recovery of threatened and endangered species. For a complete list of the Recovery Champion, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/recovery/champions/index.html.

For information about the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex: http://www.fws.gov/WillametteValley/complex/index.html.


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