Tag Archives: Karner Blue Butterfly

Helping a small butterfly on the road to recovery in New York

I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission (APBPC) is working to protect a species as small as your thumbnail.  The APBPC manages thousands of acres of the sandy pitch pine-scrub oak barrens ecosystem to restore habitat for the Karner blue butterfly, a species that has been federally endangered since 1992.  Karners’ are known for their beautiful bright blue colored wings, seen typically in males.  Females are grayish brown, but both sexes are gray on the undersides of their wings.  Their rarity throughout New York State is what makes the Albany Pine Bush such a spectacular place to visit.

Karner blue butterfly

A Karner blue butterfly on a spotted knapweed flower.

Wild lupine plant

A wild lupine plant; the only known food source for Karners at the caterpillar stage.

The butterflies are found in select states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and New Hampshire.  Within most of these states, Karner populations are limited to just a few areas because of their requirement for relatively open sites with sandy soil that will support the wild lupine plant, the Karner’s only known food source at the caterpillar stage.  Adult butterflies feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, but without lupine, Karner blue butterfly populations cannot survive.

Recently, the APBPC presented visitors with the rare opportunity to see Karner blue butterflies released into the preserve as part of their conservation plan to boost population numbers.  Watch this video, which is also below, to see how the butterflies are released after a long 300 mile journey from egg to butterfly between the Albany Pine Bush and the rearing facility in Concord, NH.

Mesh holding container

A mesh holding container inside the Discovery Center at the Albany Pine Bush. The chrysalises are in the petri dish behind the orange butterfly weed flowers that adult butterflies will feed on. The adult butterfly climbing up the left side of the container recently emerged.

The Karner blue butterfly has declined over the years mainly because of two reasons.  The open sandy soils are perfect locations to build homes and businesses because the ground offers good drainage.  Also, without management, sites can become overgrown with trees through natural succession or with invasive species.  The APBPC has worked with many local, state, and federal organizations to protect, restore, and manage Karner blue butterfly habitat.  To protect these lands the APBPC works with willing landowners to buy or put conservation easements on parcels of land.  Then, restoration is done to continuously manage the sites, making them suitable for Karner blue butterflies.

The ideal habitat that the APBPC is trying to model with these restoration efforts is an open savannah-like area with as few as 30 trees per acre, and a balance of medium height scrub oak plants and other shrubs, and low growing wild lupine.  This provides wild lupine plants with enough space and sunlight to grow.  Unfortunately, shrubby plants and trees grow much taller than lupine, blocking sunlight and disturbing the open area Karners prefer.  To manage shrubby plants, APBPC uses the following restoration methods, which are evaluated by habitat and butterfly monitoring which determine the timeline and approach for each technique:

  • Mowing:  To manage vegetation growth, APBPC staff will mow tall vegetation every other year in areas where there is heavy lupine growth; this doesn’t damage the lupine plants, but simply suppresses the height of taller shrubs.
  • Burning:  In areas where there is little to no lupine growth, an APBPC burn team will perform a prescribed burn in a pre-determined area to remove taller vegetation, then seed for lupine one week after the fire.
  • Mechanical removal:  Mechanical removal of trees or shrubs is necessary when they cannot be maintained by fire or mowing.  Typically, this includes cutting down tall trees or thick, woody shrubs.
  • Herbicide treatment:  In some areas of the Pine Bush, scrub oak plants can become very tall; these areas require treatment by a herbicide because they are too tall to be mowed and they cannot be burned because they are growing in areas with heavy lupine growth.

VIDEO: Butterflies captured from the Pine Bush are transported to rearing facility in New Hampshire

Big partnerships help even the smallest creatures

A unique union formed between a utility company, a land preserve and two government agencies has created an impressive opportunity for conservation in New York.

National Grid, an electric and gas conglomerate, owns and manages rights-of-way in the upstate Capital District that run through the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and contain patches of wild blue lupine and other wildflowers—a coveted habitat for some uncommon wildlife. While National Grid serves millions of people in New York, as of October, they started serving another, much smaller crowd.

The company’s rights-of-way have become a favorite spot for two rare butterflies—the Karner blue and frosted elfin. The tiny, bright Karner blue and the brown frosted elfin butterflies thrive only in these open areas with the wild lupine plant, which is their primary food as caterpillars.

Karner blue butterfly. Credit: J. and K. Hollingsworth

Karner blue butterfly. Credit: J. and K. Hollingsworth

Both butterflies are protected under law—the Karner blue under the federal Endangered Species Act and the frosted elfin under New York’s Endangered Species Act. Both acts, through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have provided an opportunity for National Grid and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to partner in a habitat management project.

National Grid presents Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission with a $50,000 check. Credit: USFWS

National Grid presents Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission with a $50,000 check. Credit: USFWS

That partnership took a big step just over a month ago, when National Grid presented the commission with a $50,000 endowment to assist in their efforts to create and enhance land for the Karner blues on 23 acres of National Grid property.

“The project is a solid example of public organizations and a private utility coming together for the conservation of one of the most rare habitats in the northeastern United States,” says Christopher Hawver, executive director of the commission, which was created in 1988 by the New York State Legislature to protect and manage the precious remaining pitch pine and scrub oak barrens.

The project and partnership is grounded in an in-depth conservation plan finalized by National Grid this past July, when the Service issued National Grid a 50-year endangered species permit, called an incidental take permit, for both butterflies. In addition, the NYSDEC issued a similar permit under New York state  law. To receive these permits, National Grid crafted a plan (PDF) that would allow them to efficiently operate while preserving these precious species.

The Endangered Species Act provides for collaborative partnerships in protecting endangered species and their homes.
One way is with companies and others through habitat conservation plans, a requirement for an incidental take permit.
An incidental take permit allows the continuance of activities, such as clearing rights-of-ways, that risk affecting threatened and endangered wildlife.
Meanwhile, the permit holder implements conservation measures designed to minimize those risks and mitigate their impacts to endangered wildlife. More

The plan includes an agreement with the commission for managing the 23 acres of rights-of-way, which borders a small population of Karner blue butterflies on the preserve. Neil Gifford, the commission’s conservation director, says he hopes that the Karner blues will colonize the new habitat on their own. But if they don’t, the commission raises Karner blues in captivity, which could support populating the right-of-ways. Gifford estimates that it will take three to five years to successfully colonize the Karner blues in that area.

This project is one of several ways that National Grid will contribute to conserving both butterflies, mitigating the construction and management activity that will eliminate 3.5 acres of the Karner blue’s habitat and periodically impact an existing 34 acres of habitat during the 50-year permit. National Grid will create or enhance about 59 acres of habitat, and it will promote better habitat management in the areas near National Grid’s rights-of-way. They have also agreed to reduce existing threats from off-road vehicles.

Gifford is thrilled about the new partnership and explains that he has been looking forward to teaming up with National Grid for a while.

“Having this power line running through the middle of the preserve generated some management challenges for us,” says Gifford. “This management agreement is going to dramatically expedite our ability to use prescribed fire and improve the health of habitat adjacent to the utility line.”


Submitted by Raechel Kelley, an intern in the Northeast Region External Affairs office.

Partnering to save endangered animals: New Hampshire

We’re so excited about the new interactive map highlighting endangered species efforts in each state across the nation. Each day we’ll feature a state, partner and animal. Subscribe on the right to keep up!

Happy Pollinator Week! This week, we have a chance to learn more and recognize the little, hard-working animals that pollinate the majority of our flowering plants and crops.

Within this group of hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies and flies is the Karner blue butterfly, a small endangered butterfly found in oak savannas and pine barrens from eastern Minnesota to the Atlantic seaboard.

Now found only in pockets across its historical range, the Karner blue has faced diminishing levels of its unique habitat from human activity to suppress wildfire, cultivate forests and develop communities. Thanks to a noteworthy partnership leading a captive breeding and habitat restoration program, the Karner blue butterfly has gone from local extinction in New Hampshire to releases numbering in the thousands.Read the rest of this story.

Adult Karner blue butterflies live one to two weeks. Credit: USFWS/Joel Trick

Adult Karner blue butterflies live one to two weeks. Credit: USFWS/Joel Trick

Here are some other stories featured on New Hampshire’s page:

  • Jesup’s milk-vetch: This extremely rare member of the bean family occurs only at three sites along a 15-mile stretch of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire and Vermont.
  • Northeastern bulrush: This type of sedge is found in ponds, wet depressions, or small sinkholes within wetlands complexes in hilly areas.
  • Canada lynx: Breeding populations of this secretive cat were confirmed in New Hampshire just this winter.
  • Atlantic Coast piping plover: Find out how human activities affect this dainty, sand-colored shorebird on both its breeding and wintering grounds.
  • New England cottontail: This native rabbit’s population has plummeted over the last several decades, and though it’s disappeared from 86 percent of its historical range, the rabbit can be found in New Hampshire.