ALBANY: Neil Gifford, Conservation
Director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission shared hopeful
news with Save the Pine Bush at the October veggie/vegan lasagna
The Karner Blue butterfly feeds on wild blue lupine. There
are two broods a year, the first brood comes out in late May/early
June, and the second in July. The butterflies come out, lay
eggs. Those eggs become butterflies which come out in July,
at which point, the cycle starts all over again, with the eggs
The Karner Blue butterfly is in range-wide decline — over
90% decline since the 1970s.
Currently the only large, healthy populations of Karner Blue
are in Wisconsin and Michigan. New Hampshire lost their butterflies
in 2000 and people are currently working to reintroduce the
butterflies in Concord, using butterflies from Glacial Lake
Albany. Glacial Lake Albany is very important to the ecology
and recovery of the Karner Blue butterfly. It is the eastern
stronghold for the species. Karner Blues are also being reintroduced
in Ohio and Illinois.
The Federal Recovery Plan adopted in 2003 for the Karner
Blue outlines recovery goals for the butterfly. Fourteen recovery
units have been identified across the range of the species.
Within Glacial Lake Albany, there are four populations left:
the Albany Pine Bush, Saratoga West (the Saratoga Airport),
Saratoga sand plains, (up in Wilton and Milton, which most
closely represents the population of butterflies in New York
and how they used to behaved naturally) and the Queesnbury
sand plains. All of the populations are very small, with 20-30
butterflies, with the biggest population having a couple of
hundred of butterflies.
The Federal Plan states that three of these four areas must
be fully recovered for the butterfly to be de-listed as an
endangered species. The State draft Karner Blue Recovery plan
calls for the recovery of all four sites.
Neil Gifford briefly mentioned Karners that have been found
in Clifton Park. Pointing to a map, he noted that there is
a big gap between the Albany Pine Bush and the Saratoga County
sites. There are a couple of known sites in the Clifton Park
area and a lot of sand in Clifton Park. Undoubtedly the Karner
Blue once covered that area. The Commission believes that in
the future, this link, through Clifton Park, may need to be
The Federal Recovery Plan outlines what the goal is for the
butterfly to be considered recovered. Two types of populations
are defined for the butterfly: viable populations and large
viable populations. For the species to be de-listed, there
are different requirements in Michigan and Wisconsin than there
are in New York. Michigan and Wisconsin require large viable
populations. In New York, to be de-listed, the Karner Blue
needs to have three viable populations.
What is the difference between a “viable population” and
a “large viable population”? To be considered a
viable population, there must be at least 3000 butterflies
for either the spring or summer broods for four out of five
consecutive years. The fifth year, there must be at least 3000
butterflies, and during no year can the count drop below 1500.
Large viable populations are required for the butterfly to
be de-listed in Michigan and Wisconsin.
For a viable population in New York, we need a management
plan approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service that provides
for suitable buffering in case of adverse events. For example,
two or three years in a row of very dry or very wet weather
could wipe out a population. These types of events have happened
in the past in New York and have decimated the butterflies
across the state. Another requirement is for the maintenance
of a successional array of suitable habitat. The butterfly
needs ecosystems from the very early successional open pine
barrens to more closed-canopy pine-oak woodlands. The Pine
Bush is an early-successional plant community that is maintained
by wildfires. Without fire, the ecosystem will turn into something
One of the biggest challenges in the Pine Bush is connectivity.
The typical Karner Blue butterfly will only travel 200 yards
in its short five-day lifetime as an adult butterfly. Two to
ten per cent of the butterflies have the gene to wander and
disperse and go much farther than that. Typically, these butterflies
will not travel more than one or two kilometers. A sub-population
can only be considered viable if it is connected to at least
two other sub-populations.
A “large viable population” occupies more land
has to contain 10 square miles (6,400) acres. Ten percent or
640 acres must be occupied Karner Blue habitat. These 640 acres
needs to be dispersed over two-thirds of the entire 6,400 acres.
In addition, a large viable population needs a minimum of 6,000
butterflies, not three thousand. The reason for the additional
butterflies is there is a huge cost involved with having to
manage and monitor butterflies across ten square miles for
a preserve of 3000 butterflies. The idea is that if you have
more land preserved, it should cost less to monitor and manage
it. However, with more butterflies, you can spend less to monitor
them. In Wisconsin, the Karner Blue populations are in the
tens of thousands of butterflies.
What is a meta population? Karner Blues exists in a large
landscape. The butterflies are not necessarily everywhere,
but exist in isolated pockets that are connected. The butterflies
are constantly moving between these pockets. Its not that you
have 10,000 acres of butterfly habitat, you have patches of
habitat across 10,000 acres. Each patch, or sub-population,
needs to be connected to at least two other sub-populations.
That is in case of a bad weather event or a fire goes through
the area, each patch can be re-colonized by at least two potential
sources. Connectivity — the ability
of the butterflies to get from one sub-population to another — is
critical. All of these sub-populations together make up one
To Be Continued . . . In the April/May issue of the
Save the Pine Bush newsletter, this article will be continued,
and the Commission’s
Karner Blue strategy will be described.