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25 Years After Entering Endangered List, Karner Blue Butterfly Thrives And Exceeds Recovery Targets

The Karner blue butterfly is a small butterfly that became a state and national endangered species a quarter of a century ago. Today, it continues flapping its wings and fuels hope for full recovery at a nature preserve.

The butterfly continues to grow in numbers in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve in New York, located a couple of miles west of the state Capitol and near the urban jungle.

Surging Population

Back in 2007, the tiny creature was only a few hundred in numbers, but today it has reached a population of around 16,000.

Last Thursday, wildlife authorities gathered at the preserve to celebrate its resurgence since entering the federal endangered species list in 1991.

The Karner blue’s recovery was largely attributed to using fires in managing the sandy area, as well as the planting of the native flower blue lupine for larvae to feed on during that life phase.

The butterfly’s former decline was undoubtedly due to their habitat’s decline, said conservation director Neil Gifford.

Every summer from 2008 to 2014, staff at the Albany Pine Bush released hundreds of butterflies from a federal butterfly haven in New Hampshire, as they were deemed capable of repopulating on their own.

Prospects For Karner Blues, Other Species

The Karner blue butterfly was first identified in the 1940s by novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov when he visited the West Albany hamlet. It has two hatchings every year, with the creatures living only for a few weeks.

Their landscape needed natural fires, but then the land started to be taken over by massive trees and scrub when fire started to be regularly controlled in the Pine Bush over the last century.

Today the butterflies have spread to a 600-acre forming 58 sites.

State officials remain optimistic, also announcing this month the record number of bald eagles in the state or around 323 nesting pairs.

"New York is committed to protecting the state's natural resources and environmental treasures for future generations, including endangered species like the Karner blue butterfly," said Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner Basil Seggos.

For Seggos, the butterfly’s comeback shows the wonders of “science-based habitat management,” which also benefits rare bird and turtle species, to name a few.

Across the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) established recovery sites in states such as New York, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and New Hampshire.

The Karner blue needs to show in other areas that it is bouncing back in order to be removed from the endangered species list.

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