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July 24, 2012

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Listen to DNR Karner Recovery Coordinator Bob Hess on The Larry Meiller Show live from 11-11:45 July 25 on the WPR Ideas Network stations or online. If you miss the show, you can still listen to the archives (all links exit DNR).]

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- The drought has been challenging for the federally endangered Karner blue butterflies in Wisconsin, but recent surveys are showing they've weathered it well so far and are showing signs of the recovery making progress in some sites.

They also are benefitting from an expanded group of allies - 25 volunteers trained this summer under a new program to help look for the butterflies and assess their habitat - and from other work to help protect and restore the butterfly, the leader of the recovery effort says.

The Karner blue butterfly was listed in 1992 as a federally endangered species. It's relatively common in Wisconsin, which has the largest population of these diminutive blue butterflies in the world. The Karner blue butterfly range in Wisconsin runs from Waupaca and Waushara counties west to the Black River Falls area, and then northwest to Grantsburg.

Since 1999, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry and 40 other partners have implemented a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan that allows certain activities - such as roadside maintenance and timber harvests in Karner habitat - but makes sure those activities are carried out in ways that conserve and restore the butterfly and its habitat.

The DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources initiated a Karner blue butterfly recovery effort in 2007 that is working to restore Karner habitat and populations in five areas of the state. The goal of the recovery program is to establish 11 independent Karner populations of 3,000 to 6,000 butterflies each, on different state-owned properties that include wildlife areas, fishery areas, state natural areas, state parks, and state forests. There is also one cooperating private landowner involved in the effort and two others considering becoming involved in the recovery program.

This is the fifth year of official Karner population surveys, but the first year of a citizen scientist volunteer program. Thanks to a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant, the program was able to recruit and train 25 volunteers to do Karner abundance surveys and vegetation surveys on new and developing Karner sites.

"We are almost at the end of the second of two flights of the butterflies," says Bob Hess, DNR Karner recovery coordinator. "It's a bit early to predict results for this year, but in spite of the intense heat, field data suggest that numbers are up on the south and east edges of the range, but somewhat down everywhere else.

"The trend on the population counts from the past four years leads me to believe that we are moving closer to recovery. Although overall numbers may not be increasing dramatically, certain key sites are getting closer to their recovery goals."

In addition to conducting surveys, the recovery program is also working to restore Karner blue habitat on state lands. Recent habitat restoration efforts took place at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, the Greenwood State Wildlife Area, at Hartman Creek State Park and on the Black River State Forest to thin out closed-canopy mixed hardwood and pine forests adjacent to known Karner blue sites. On the Emmons Creek Fishery area, fields of invasive spotted knapweed were eradicated, to be followed by planting of prairie grasses and wildflowers this fall. At the White River Wildlife area, summer mowing of brush was done to prepare sites for prairie restoration. In most cases Karner populations have increased within a few years of these kinds of barrens restoration activities.

"In the end," says Hess, "recovery of the Karner blue butterfly depends on habitat restoration and maintenance. Populations fluctuate from year to year depending weather, but the availability of lupine for the larvae and wild flowers for the adults is really the key to success,"

More information can be found on a new Karner blue butterfly feature page of the DNR website that is part of a year-long celebration of the Wisconsin endangered species law.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Hess, Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Coordinator - 715-451-0149

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 24, 2012

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