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Heidi Holman: (603) 271-0467
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
December 10, 2008

Mechanical Clearing of Concord Pine Barrens Benefits Karner Blue Butterflies

CONCORD, N.H. - If you've visited the Concord Pine Barrens in Concord, N.H., recently, you may have noticed things look a little different. That is because biologists have been working hard to manage the habitat for the official State Butterfly, the Karner blue, which is an endangered species in New Hampshire.

The Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.H. Army National Guard, and many other agencies and volunteers to restore the Karner blue butterfly and its habitat, most of which has been lost to development.

Karner blue butterflies, and other native wildlife species, need native plants like wild blue lupine, New Jersey tea and blunt-leaved milkweed for food and for places to lay their eggs. These native plants need open areas on the forest floor to be able to grow. Historically, natural wildfires maintained the Pine Barrens by getting rid of excess brush and shrubs and creating sunny clearings where native nectar plants could flourish.

The Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program is putting a major emphasis on replicating those natural disturbances to maintain the Pine Barrens, including performing periodic controlled burns to mimic the natural wildfires that historically occurred. Burning is the most efficient tool for managing the Pine Barrens habitat, affecting up to 15 acres in one day by removing organic matter from the forest floor and creating sunny openings that allow flowering plants to grow without competition.

Because of strict precautions taken to ensure the safety and effectiveness of this type of management, prescribed burn operations planned for a given year are not always executed. Weather, availability of resources and biological factors all determine the timing and completion of burn activities.

In the event that controlled burns cannot be conducted, habitat management still needs to occur. Over the past summer, biologists used mechanical treatments such as mowing and brush cutting to imitate the ecologic process of wildfire. In all, a total of 14 acres were mechanically cleared this year. Although the mechanical clearing of the habitat may appear messy, and maybe even destructive, cutting only "sets back the clock" on plants affected. Regeneration will be apparent the following year.

Overall, the Karner blue butterfly restoration project has been very successful in New Hampshire. In 1999, there were no Karners left in the wild in the state. 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 reintroduction efforts the Karner blue 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 are located at the end of Chenell Drive; a kiosk there describes the Karner blue butterflies and their habitat.

Many other wildlife species may be found in the Pine Barrens, including the state-endangered frosted elfin and Persius duskywing skipper butterflies; bird species such as Eastern towhee, brown thrasher, grasshopper sparrow and turkey; mammals such as white-tailed deer; and over 500 species of moths that have been documented there. Visitors are asked to step carefully to avoid wild lupine plants, which may have Karner blue butterfly eggs on them.

To learn more about N.H. Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife program, click here.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats.

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