Lindsay Webb (603) 271-2605
Liza Poinier (603) 271-1734
July 17, 2008
Record Number of Karner Blue Butterflies Released Into The Wild
CONCORD, N.H. -- It's been a busy, blue week at the Pine Barrens in Concord, where biologists with N.H. Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program are releasing a record number of Karner blue butterflies into the wild as part of an ongoing species and habitat restoration program. Karner blues, endangered in New Hampshire and throughout the U.S., were once gone from the state; but thanks to the dedicated work of lots of people from many organizations, these delicate, tiny gems are adding a new flash of blue to the Pine Barrens. The Barrens -- a sandy, wooded area off of Loudon Road -- is comprised of pitch pine and scrub oak trees and native flowering plants such as New Jersey tea and wild blue lupine that provide essential habitat for Karners and other rare wildlife.
This year, according to Fish and Game biologist Lindsay Webb, more than 1,600 Karner blue butterflies have already been released into the wild. "That's the most we have ever raised in captivity and released," Webb said. This number will continue to rise as biologists and volunteers release more butterflies in the coming days.
Not all of the butterflies are destined for release; about 200 will be kept in the captive rearing lab located on the Army National Guard base. The Karners will mate and lay their eggs in captivity; the eggs will be cared for over the winter until the cycle begins again next spring. In addition to the 1,600 adult butterflies released in New Hampshire, 1,000 pupae were taken to New York as part of an exchange program for another Karner recovery project; these have since emerged as adults and been released into the Albany Pine Bush.
The Karners and their Pine Barrens habitat are getting a lot of help from their friends both near and far! The Kids for Karners project continued this year, with local Concord area students growing wild blue lupine -- the sole food source for Karner caterpillars -- in their classrooms. Elementary, middle and high school students came by the busload to plant their lupines on the Pine Barrens in spring. Today, the captive and wild Karners are feeding on these plants and others established over the last few years.
The plantings are one important part of habitat restoration efforts; prescribed or controlled burns are another. Earlier this year, Forest Ranger Captain Brian Nowell from the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) and several students from the Concord Fire Academy and NH Technical Institute helped to perform a controlled burn on part of the habitat restoration area. Periodic burning is necessary to the health of this special habitat; it creates grassy openings that are critical to many rare species, and helps keep dangerous accumulations of deadwood in check.
The Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island continued to help the project by raising both wild blue lupine plants and Karner blue butterflies at the Zoo and bringing them to the Pine Barrens in Concord. The New England Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Collaboration also helped by growing wild lupine and planting them on the Concord Pine Barrens.
New this year, Webb and staff from the Roger Williams Zoo worked to incorporate student volunteers from the zoo's conservation camp. The students, ranging in age from 14 to 17, come to New Hampshire every Wednesday and help in the lab raising and caring for the butterflies at all life stages. "It's a great opportunity for them," Webb said. "The students know the zoo is involved in raising the butterflies in the spring, then they get to come up here and see the habitat and see that these butterflies actually live in the wild and not just in a cage in a zoo." Also new this year, an intern from Antioch University and two interns from the Student Conservation Association are helping out.
Overall, the Karner blue butterfly restoration project has been very successful in New Hampshire. In 1999, there were no Karners left in the wild. This year marks the fourth straight year that biologists have observed and documented Karner blue butterflies surviving on their own in the wild of the Concord Pine Barrens. This gives hope that with continued management of the habitat and the butterfly population that Karner blue butterflies, the official NH state butterfly, will once again thrive and be a beautiful symbol of the natural diversity of New Hampshire's wildlife.
The public is welcome to tour the Concord Pine Barrens. Walking trails and a Karner kiosk that describes the butterflies, similar species and the habitat are located at the end of Chenell Drive. Many other wildlife species may be found in the Pine Barrens, including moth and butterfly species like the state endangered frosted elfin and Persius duskywing skipper butterflies; bird species such as Eastern towhee, brown thrasher and grasshopper sparrow; and mammals such as white-tailed deer and turkey. Visitors are asked to step carefully to avoid wild lupine plants, which may have Karner blue butterfly eggs on them.
Funding for the habitat and butterfly restoration project is provided in part from Federal aid grants, sales of the NH conservation license plate (Moose Plate) and from private donations to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Partners include N.H. Fish and Game, the N.H. Army National Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the city of Concord.