Butterfly habitat needs help

The Karner Blue butterfly, a native species to the region, is not just an endangered insect; it is a symbol of a vanishing habitat that about 30 species call home.

The Karner Blue butterfly lives in the area called the Saratoga Sand Plains that stretches from Albany north to Glens Falls.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and the Saratoga State Park maintain the natural habitat of this butterfly, but, in the last 10 years, the population of Karner Blue butterflies has decreased by 90 percent.

According to Saratoga State Park Environmental Educator Andy Fyfe, the Karner Blue butterfly is a very finicky animal that needs different things at different stages of its life, but mostly lives on or around wild blue lupine.

Fyfe said the Saratoga State Park is helping to save the endangered Karner Blue butterfly by maintaining the grassy areas where it lives, planting wild blue lupine and collecting and distributing seeds.

Because Karner Blue caterpillars only eat wild blue lupine, the survival of the butterfly depends on the survival of the plant.

Urban and suburban development, along with foreign plants permeating the area, eventually choking out native plants, have led to less wild blue lupine.

Less wild blue lupine means less sustainable food for the Karner Blue butterfly, the ultimate reason they are endangered today.

Fyfe said seeds such as honeysuckle and wild plantain came to America from Europe with wheat and other grains. These plants that thrive in disturbed environments are helping to destroy the native plant life in the Saratoga sand plains.

Native Americans used to create fires in the area to help rejuvenate the plant life. Some plant species in the area spread their seeds through fires. Fires also help kill off foreign plant life and allow for native plants to grow. Without fires, large trees will grow in the low grassy fields, shading the lupine and other plant life that need plenty of sun and warmth. Managed fires are allowed to occur in the Albany Pine Bush, but not in Saratoga.

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