PROTECTING THE KARNER BLUE BUTTERFLY IN WISCONSIN:
SHIFTING FOCUS FROM INDIVIDUALS TO POPULATIONS AND PROCESSES
Mark K. Leach
The traditional focus of state and federal endangered species laws and protection policies has been on the prohibition of take or harm of individual organisms, and permanent protection of specific geographic occurrences of populations. Wisconsin state law prohibits "take" of any listed animal on any public or private land, except where permitted for "scientific, zoological, or educational" purposes only. The state plant laws offer much more limited protection. The U. S. Endangered Species Act also prohibits on any public or private land the "take" of individual animals listed as federally endangered unless either a Scientific Take Permit or an Incidental Take Permit is granted. The federal definition of "take" includes "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect."
The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) was listed as federally endangered by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service in December 1992. It has not yet been proposed for state listing in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, its apparent stronghold, the Karner blue is still quite widespread across sandy regions of the state that once supported large areas of barrens habitat. Today, the butterfly is found on areas of dry, upland sands supporting its only larval hostplant, wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis). A variety of nectaring forbs also are required for the two adult flights, and researchers suspect that Karners benefit from a mosaic of sun and shade (Leach 1993). The Karner blue spends the greater part of each year as either eggs (which over winter) or developing larvae in the lupine vegetation or plant litter.
Like many of its barrens associates, wild lupine appears to thrive following disturbance, including fire, woody plant disease and pests, or mechanical treatments that disturb the soil, control woody growth, and/or open the forest canopy. In Wisconsin, such areas include pine and oak barrens managed with prescribed burning, old fields reverting to sand prairie, mowed roadside rights-of-way and utility corridors, military training areas, public and industrial forest (especially in areas where cutting or disease has opened the canopy), logging and ATV trails, and fuel breaks. The Karner blue, and other rare lupine-obligates such as the frosted elfin and the Persius dusky wing butterflies, are believed to have existed as dynamic populations or metapopulations characterized by local extinctions and colonizations across a landscape that was ever changing according to natural disturbance regimes (Givnish et al. 1988; Schweitzer 1989). Recovery efforts in Wisconsin will no doubt aim to realize the opportunities we still have on several large public properties to restore large-scale barrens and Karner metapopulations. However, it has been our observation that many current land-use practices both on and off these public properties, such as timber harvest, tank traffic, fuel-break maintenance, and brush-removal along rights-of-way, may result in some mortality (or "take") of individuals in the short term, but actually may enhance habitat, and consequently Karner populations, in the longer term. For disturbance adapted organisms such as the Karner blue, it seems most biologically appropriate to focus on healthy populations and metapopulations rather than on individuals.
Since federal listing of the Karner blue, some federal Scientific Take Permits have been issued for scientific experiments or for management (such as appropriate prescribed burning) specifically directed toward recovery. Federal entities (such as Fort McCoy Military Reservation) have obtained Incidental Take Permits through the federal agency consultation process authorized under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. This process requires federal agencies to develop conservation measures to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of the species. However, non-federal entities are required to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) before issuance of an Incidental Take Permit (U. S. Department of Interior 1988). This plan must ensure that the taking will not appreciably reduce likelihood of survival or recovery of the species. Traditionally, the development and approval process for HCPs takes several years. At the state level, no incidental take process has been authorized under Wisconsin statutes; however the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is currently developing proposed statutory changes to allow such a permitting process.
A number of land use conflicts have resulted in Wisconsin due to the widespread occurrence of potential and known Karner blue habitat (and that of other state-listed barrens affiliates) on areas where current land use does not qualify for a Scientific Take Permit. Examples include forested areas slated for timber harvest, but where harvest activities may take some Karner eggs present in the litter, or rights-of-way that are mowed or brush-hogged to control woody growth, but where this activity may result in some mortality. Moreover, current state and federal laws do not prohibit landowners from allowing natural succession to shade out the lupine and eliminate these disturbance-dependent species, nor do they prevent a landowner from prohibiting surveys on his or her property for fear of the consequences, or even from preventing lupine and Karner colonization of newly disturbed areas through various means, for fear of economic hardship.
We have found nearly all landowners eager to comply with the law, and many wish to protect endangered species or integrate endangered species management into their current land use. Wisconsin's private landowner contact program for the voluntary protection of the Karner blue and other federally listed species (by avoiding "take") has been very successful. Likewise, the federal consultation process has been effective in handling situations such as military training at Fort McCoy and highway projects with federal funding involving Karner blue habitat. However, for many landowners with no federal "hook" to Section 7 consultation, with economic interests at stake, or who lack the resources to actively survey and manage for the desired habitat, or who fear the consequences of inadvertent take, the current laws and lengthy processes required for incidental take can serve as strong disincentives to management that would promote Karner blue and other rare barrens organisms.
Many scientists in Wisconsin have recognized this problem, and the critical need to best serve Karner blue recovery by shifting our very limited resources away from a focus on the "taking" of individuals, and toward the protection and management of populations and metapopulations, and the dynamic ecological systems and processes needed to maintain the growing number of other rare barrens-associated species. To that end, the Wisconsin DNR and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, together with other key stakeholders such as the commercial forest industry, county forests and utilities, are now forming a diverse team to begin the development of a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan for the Karner blue butterfly.
In May 1994, representatives of public and private forestry began forming a partnership with Wisconsin DNR and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Karner blue that would be statewide in scope. At the time of this writing, this partnership is still in the formative stages. Throughout the summer of 1994, the many affected stakeholders will be brought into the process, with the goal of developing a comprehensive plan that integrates conservation practices and economic land-use through a partnership among affected stakeholders sharing their collective knowledge and experience. This plan will provide the basis for the application to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for a statewide incidental take permit for the Karner blue.
While Habitat Conservation Plans, under federal law, are required to ensure "no net loss" of the target species through avoiding, minimizing and mitigating take, it is the goal of this HCP team to go beyond this scenario, and to assure a net gain of the Karner blue. Furthermore, Wisconsin DNR wishes to consider other rare barrens species (especially federal candidate and state-listed species) in this plan, to take a proactive approach to conservation. A multi-species or ecosystem approach will likely be optional for the varying team partners. Critical to this effort will be our ability to focus on dynamic processes and shifting populations across the landscape, rather than on individual organisms on specific tracts at a fixed point in time.
It is the goal of this team to "complete" this HCP and have a statewide permit in place within three years. It must be a dynamic plan, flexible enough to be amended as changes occur on the landscape. It is unknown at the time of this writing whether or not an Interim Incidental Take Permit will be sought to cover this time period.
We are hopeful that the many prospective partners will successfully join together in this very large-scale, complex, but exciting effort. An HCP that is statewide in scope will allow us to focus on the best opportunities in the state for either barrens restoration or integration of Karner blue habitat needs into existing land-use. Ongoing involvement in the process by the Fish & Wildlife Service will help assure that the HCP meets the federal requirements necessary for an Incidental Take Permit. Once this permit is in place, we can allow incidental taking that does not jeopardize recovery to occur in some areas, while managing other areas to enhance Karner blue populations and metapopulations.
Givnish, T. J., E. S. Menges and D. F. Schweitzer. 1988. Minimum area requirements for long-term conservation of the Albany Pine Bush and the Karner blue butterfly: an assessment. Report to the City of Albany from Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., Albany, NY. Unpublished.
Leach, M. 1993. Status and Distribution of the Karner blue Butterfly at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin: Final Report on a Two-Year Survey. Report submitted on behalf of the Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to Fort McCoy Military Reservation. 50 p.
Schweitzer, D. 1989. Fact sheet for the Karner blue butterfly with special reference to New York. The Nature Conservancy. Unpublished manuscript.
US. Department of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service. 1988. Endangered Species Act of 1973 as Amended through the 100th Congress.