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Helping a Recovery Program Take Flight

Working with the Karner blue butterfly in Wisconsin

Cathy Carnes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Cathy Carnes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

By Cathy Carnes
Green Bay Ecological Services Field Office

Just over 20 years ago, the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeidis melissa samuelis) and I became fast and inseparable friends. Our relationship began in 1992, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the butterfly as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time—of the seven states where the Karner blue was known to occur, Wisconsin boasted the largest population. So when I became the Service's first Endangered Species Coordinator in Wisconsin, in 1993, I also became the Karner blue butterfly Recovery Coordinator. Things haven't been the same since.

A whirlwind of questions and concerns followed the Karner blue's listing, as with any newly listed species: Where do we begin? What research is needed? What management is needed? What permits are needed? How do we recover the Karner blue so that ESA protection is no longer necessary for its survival?

I dug in and set up the 12-member Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Team -- a team of professors, biologists of state and federal agencies and The Nature Conservancy, and representatives from two private timber companies -- to help answer these questions.

The Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan, a product of the team, established recovery goals for the species and provided guidance on monitoring, habitat management, and research. This was only the beginning.

Because Wisconsin is in the heart of the species' range, the Karner blue is found throughout the state on private and commercial lands, utility rights-of-way, public forests, and parks. Mowing and burning, although beneficial and sometimes used to manage Karner blue habitat, may kill adult butterflies and destroys eggs.

Landowners doing vegetation control in areas with Karner blue butterflies would then need a permit from the Service, and permit applicants must complete a Habitat Conservation Plan before the Service can issue such a permit that allows some incidental take.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources met the permit challenge in 1999 by developing a statewide HCP granting private landowners and companies some assurances under the ensuing permit. From concept to finalization, I worked with the DNR by providing guidance and ensuring the HCP met the Service's requirements.

Our work was challenging because this was the first ever statewide HCP—a new model involving a large area and many partners. Today, the success of the HCP is reflected not only in its growth from 26 to 42 partners, but in the 826,475 acres of land enrolled in the HCP that provides additional conservation for the Karner blue butterfly—an amazing accomplishment.

I am still at the center of all things Karner blue, watching the efforts of our partners move the Karner blue slowly but surely closer toward recovery. Friendship with a butterfly has never felt so good.




Last updated: April 1, 2013