In a dramatic, but satisfying, twist of fate, the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) has almost recovered from the brink of extinction. Named for its initial location of discovery and beautiful coloration the Karner blue butterfly relies on unique inland wetland pine barrens found east of Minnesota and along the eastern seaboard. Historically the blue’s range was a continuous band throughout this area but today is only found in isolated pockets of New Hampshire, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota. Karner caterpillars are completely reliant on the wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis), only found on the southern band of the butterfly’s range. The Karner blue butterfly was added to the endangered species list on December 14, 1992.
Over the last couple of decades conservation efforts have ramped up across the country with Northeastern New York leading the charge. In collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the New York State Department of Conservation (NYSDEC), National Grid is creating and maintaining permanent access points across 5 acres in Warren County for the protection and management federally and state-listed endangered Karner blue and the state-listed threatened frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus). Habitat restoration and conservation is critical to the recovery of these species. NYSDEC Commissioner Joe Martens stated, “The protection of this five-acre preserve is an important step in halting the decline of these species and giving them a chance to thrive in an area safe from disturbance. DEC is happy to work with National Grid and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as partners in the stewardship of this preserve and in restoration of more habitats under National Grid’s implementation of a habitat conservation plan.”
The protected land will provide much-needed habitat for the endangered butterfly species to breed, forage, find shelter and hopefully expand their range once again. This will be a dedicated butterfly preserve created adjacent to a power line rights-of-way owned and operated by National Grid. This conservation easement is just the first step in the company’s 50 year habitat restoration plan which received approval by the NYSDEC and FWS in 2012.
Additional conservation efforts outlined in the plan include actions to avoid and minimize negatively affecting butterflies and habitat when work needs to be done in or near utility rights-of-way habitats identified within Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Warren and Oneida counties. The plan is a shining example of collaborative tools provided under the Endangered Species Act and Environmental Conservation Law of the State of New York to conserve rare species while supporting energy needs.
Karner blue butterfly populations are severely restricted by their very specific diet, so conservation of land favorable for the growth of the wild blue lupine which is critical to caterpillar development and adult survival. The low-growing wild blue lupine thrives in open areas such as utility corridors. National Grid’s Principal Scientist for their Environmental Department, Michael Sherman stated, “Protecting our rights-of-way in a responsible manner is critical to our ability to deliver energy safely and reliably to thousands of home and business in the region. We also need to maintain our system in an environmentally responsible way that preserves the ecosystems that are home to species like the Karner blue and frosted elfin butterflies.”
For more information on the Karner blue butterfly, the frosted elfin, their habitat and the NYSDEC and National Grid’s plan for conservation, visit: http://www.fws.gov/Midwest/Endangered/insects/kbb/index.html.