Safe Harbor Agreement with PG&E

Lange's Metalmark Butterfly on Buckwheat

This story was by Al Donner was originally published in the Spring 2010 issue of Tideline, the quarterly newsletter of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Safe Harbor Agreement Should Help Endangered Species 

An agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and PG&E is expected to provide significant habitat benefits for a tiny rare butterfly that has been flittering on the brink of extinction in eastern Contra Costa County.  

Termed a Safe Harbor Agreement, the voluntary pact between the federal government and the large utility will enable PG&E to improve native habitat on its property to help the Lange’s metalmark butterfly. The agreement will cover two 6-acre parcels of mostly sandy dunes owned by PG&E. The two parcels lie on either side of a 12-acre unit of the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Each parcel holds a large transmission tower. 

Under the Safe Harbor Agreement, PG&E is expected to actively manage non-native vegetation (including winter vetch, rip gut brome, and yellow star thistle) on the sandy southern bank of the San Joaquin River.  The careful removal of non-native plants will help the butterfly’s primary food plant, naked stem buckwheat, to grow, expanding opportunities for the butterfly population to grow.  It will also allow refuge staff to work toward restoration of a native plant assemblage on the property. 

In the last three years the Service, aided by butterfly experts and volunteers, has energetically been helping the species. A captive breeding program at Moorpark College in Southern California has returned dozens of Lange’s to the site. Vegetation management continues to provide improved food conditions for the butterfly. 

The attraction of a Safe Harbor Agreement is the protection it provides a landowner who might incidentally harm a species protected under the Endangered Species Act.  The Service encourages such partnerships because they provide a net benefit to the imperiled species. In Antioch the large utility and the federal government are neighbors who plan to work together to help a tiny butterfly flitter back from the brink of extinction.