Back from the Brink

Not every endangered species is doomed. Thanks to tough laws, dedicated researchers, and plenty of money and effort, success stories abound

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Not Glamorous, but Protected
Status: Endangered
Year listed: 1992

Number of other butterflies listed as threatened or endangered: 44

The karner blue butterfly once lived in 12 Eastern and Midwestern states and the province of Ontario, Canada. But as agriculture and development destroyed its prime habitats, including oak savanna and pine barrens, its numbers declined across its range by 99 percent or more.

The federal government declares species endangered, but subsequent recovery efforts draw on state and local agencies as well as federal ones, along with conservation organizations and private landowners. In Wisconsin, the heart of the Karner blue’s range, the entire state helped bring this fluttering species back. Today, 38 different partners participate in a sweeping conservation plan that takes into account the butterfly’s life history. When the caterpillars hatch in spring and summer, they require fields of lupine for food and shelter. So the Wisconsin Gas Companyagreed to mow grass along its power lines later in the summer than usual, to give Karner blue caterpillars time to metamorphose into butterflies and fly away. The state highway department and other partner organizations also mow late, and they leave the grass long at the end of the growing season to help butterfly eggs survive the winter. Forestry companies and other partners delay herbicide and pesticide spraying on their lands until the fall, after lupine and other plants have died. “We will lose this species if we don’t have institutionalized management,” says Cathy Carnes, endangered species coordinator with the FWS in Wisconsin

Restoration of the insect’s habitat appears to be a boon to other scarce animals that share it, such as the endangered Kirtland’s warbler (which breeds in Michigan but visits Wisconsin), the slender glass lizard, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and the wood turtle.

To be sure, charismatic, symbolic or particularly cute endangered species often receive the lion’s share of public attention and money, but the vast majority of endangered or threatened species are plants, unpretentious animals or insects like the Karner blue. The butterfly will never stir people’s hearts quite like a bald eagle does, but its ESA listing prompted enough changes that the Karner blue stands a good chance of surviving. “We still have time to preserve what we have left,” says Carnes.



Sharing Water During a Drought
Status: Threatened
Year listed: 2002
Newly adopted habitat: Cattle watering tanks


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