Newsroom Midwest Region

Wisconsin’s Robert Hess steps up for endangered Karner blue butterflies

June 16, 2016

Wisconsin’s Robert Hess (second from left) receives the 2015 Recovery Champion Award from Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley, former Service biologist Cathy Carnes, and Service biologists Jill Utrup and Pete Fasbender. Photo by Kim Mitchell/USFWS
Wisconsin’s Robert Hess (second from left) receives the 2015 Recovery Champion Award from Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley, former Service biologist Cathy Carnes, and Service biologists Jill Utrup and Pete Fasbender. Photo by Kim Mitchell/USFWS.

Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the outstanding efforts of people across the nation who have gone above and beyond to help imperiled species. This year, we celebrated heroes for their work with imperiled species coast to coast, including the Steller’s eider in Alaska, the Florida scrub jay, the Louisiana black bear and the Columbian white-tailed deer in the Pacific Northwest.

In the Midwest, the Service celebrated Robert Hess, whose tireless efforts have furthered the recovery of the Karner blue. Hess recently retired from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources after spending the past 9 years as the state’s recovery coordinator for the Karner blue. Truly a champion for this species, Hess has been a successful advocate for the butterfly by developing partnerships, coordinating and conducting population and habitat assessments, and restoring habitat for the species in Wisconsin. He has fostered support for the species through forging partnerships, securing grants and coordinating population monitoring at recovery properties across the state.

Hess’s accomplishments include cutting edge research that has shaped the way we look at recovery of the Karner blue butterfly. The results of research he conducted with his daughter, Anna, and state wildlife managers revealed the link between habitat disturbances caused by American bison and improved habitat for the butterfly.

Hess’s leadership in rallying support for the Karner blue recovery program in Wisconsin from state wildlife managers and foresters, contractors, non-government conservation groups, industry partners, and a Citizen’s Science network, has been crucial in raising awareness and support for the program, obtaining vital population monitoring and habitat assessment data, and restoring habitat for the species. He was instrumental in implementing the use of a distance sampling methodology for deriving annual population counts of Karner blue butterflies in Wisconsin. The use of distance sampling has allowed the Karner Blue Recovery Team to more effectively monitor the status of Karner blues at recovery properties and to determine whether they have reached the recovery population criteria outlined in the Recovery Plan for the species.

Taking care of the Karner blue has also been a real family affair for Bob, as both his daughters, Anna and Julie, and wife Joy have had active roles in helping with recovery work. In 2013 Anna Hess earned her PhD with her research focused on Karner blue habitat selection and previously unexplored facets of host plant quality. On their own time, the family has conducted research and developed ecological models to aid recovery efforts and lend a better understanding to the mechanisms driving this species. This work has been used extensively in Wisconsin’s recovery program.