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Golf Resort in Florida Keys Provides Safe Harbor for Endangered Butterfly


September 10, 2001

Lee Andrews, 404/679-7217
Elsie Davis, 404/679-7107

Today, an historic agreement was signed to protect the Schaus swallowtail (Papilio aristodemus ponceanus), one of America’s rarest butterflies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the golf resort Cheeca Lodge on Matecumbe Key, and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Research, part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History are joined in a partnership that will lead to the restoration of butterfly habitat within Cheeca Lodge. The restored habitat will provide a place for dispersing butterflies to feed and rest and will facilitate the butterflies' efforts to reach other suitable, but unoccupied, habitat in the lower Florida Keys.

“This agreement, called a Safe Harbor, is part of the Service's continuing effort to work in partnership with private landowners on issues involving federally listed species,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “Much of the habitat for threatened and endangered species in the southeast and throughout the country occurs on private land, and we need the direct involvement and support of private landowners, like Cheeca Lodge, to assist in conservation and recovery efforts for species like the Schaus swallowtail.”

Under the agreement, Cheeca Lodge and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Research will use a $55,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to purchase and plant native, tropical trees that the Schaus swallowtail uses for food and places to rest. The species that will be planted include wild lime (Zanthoxylem fagara) and torchwood (Amyris elemifera), which are important food for the butterfly's caterpillars, and many attractive nectar-producing plants that will feed the adults. The trees would be planted on Cheeca Lodge's 27-acre golf course and resort on Upper Matecumbe Key in hopes to attract the swallowtail. No butterflies currently occur on the property.

“We are thrilled to be involved in such a positive project, especially since this is the first Safe Harbor agreement ever in Florida,” said Julie Olsen, Public Relations Director for Cheeca Lodge. “We hope that the trees we plant will someday attract butterflies to our beautiful golf course and grounds.”

A special endangered species permit, called an enhancement of survival permit, is issued by the Service concurrently with each Safe Harbor Agreement. This permit provides Endangered Species Act regulatory assurances to landowners who voluntarily participate in listed species conservation. In this case, the agreement and permit will allow Cheeca Lodge to continue their normal land management and use activities without fear of violating the Endangered Species Act as long as any threatened or endangered species that occurred on the property prior to signing the agreement are not harmed. Since no butterflies or other listed species currently exist on the property, Cheeca Lodge will have the flexibility to continue all of its normal management and recreational activities even if the Schaus' swallowtail eventually occupies the golf course. In the absence of an enhancement of survival permit, these types of activities might be controlled or regulated by the Endangered Species Act.

“This agreement allows us to help the butterfly and provide educational opportunities to our customers and staff without worrying that we will be liable later,” said Olsen. “If our situation changes drastically in the 10 years that the agreement is in effect, we can remove all or part of the trees we planted without penalty, even if it means that any butterflies present will be lost. This gives us complete flexibility in our operations and makes it easy for us to justify our participation.”

The grant that facilitated this project was obtained through the Foundation's Wildlife Links grant program. This program is co-sponsored by the U.S. Golf Association to fund research, management, and education projects targeted at golfers and the golf industry.

“We hope this project will encourage other landowners in the Florida Keys to come to the rescue of the butterfly,” said Lee Andrews, the Service's regional coordinator for Safe Harbor Agreements. “Any private landowner in the Keys who is interested in planting and maintaining native vegetation for the butterfly can work with us to develop one of these agreements, and, if a landowner does not currently have any of the butterflies, it makes it a very easy process.”

Landowners who are interested in these agreements can call the Service's Vero Beach office at 561/562-3909 or Mr. Andrews at 404/679-7217 for more information. For more information on the Schaus swallowtail, please visit the website “The butterfly's native habitat, the Tropical Hardwood Hammock, has been steadily disappearing during the last century. It is nice to see people wanting to restore the country's tropical forest, which only occurs in the Florida Keys and a few tiny remnants on the Florida mainland,” said Thomas Emmel, Director of the University of Florida's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Research.

“Additionally, the Schaus swallowtail is a key indicator species of the Keys, having alerted us to important environmental changes like those that result from pesticide drift associated with mosquito spraying. This drift has been implicated in mortalities of wildlife species that were not intended, including some butterflies. People who enjoy nature are coming to Florida from around the world to see this extraordinary habitat and rare species, such as the Schaus' swallowtail,” said Emmel. “The restoration we are helping with on Cheeca Lodge is important because it will help maintain those aspects of the Florida Keys that draw these people while enhancing the survival of the butterfly.

Safe Harbor Agreements were first developed in the southeastern United States. The first was an agreement in the Sandhills Region of North Carolina for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Several other agreements for red-cockaded woodpeckers have been signed and several more are in development. The Cheeca Lodge agreement is the first Safe Harbor Agreement in the Southeast for a species other than the red-cockaded woodpecker.

The Schaus swallowtail is now found only in the upper Florida Keys from Elliot Key in Biscayne National Park to northern Key Largo and on upper Matecumbe Key. Historically, it ranged from the south Miami area down the Florida Keys to Lower Matecumbe Key. The butterfly was almost blown into extinction in 1998 when Hurricane Georges slammed the Florida Keys. Much of south Florida received widespread damage to property, and native wildlife habitats were also affected. The butterfly was particularly hard hit, and much of the little remaining habitat in the Florida Keys for this fragile butterfly was lost or significantly altered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

More information/photos about the Schaus swallowtail butterfly

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2001 News Releases

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