ALBANY – The number of Karner blue butterflies at the Pine Bush Preserve has grown from less than 1,000 in 2007 to more than 15,000 in 2016, according to Albany Pine Bush Commission Conservation Director Neil Gifford.
It’s the fourth consecutive year the preserve’s Karner population exceeded the 3,000 butterfly minimum – established in the 2003 Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan – and 25 years after the butterfly’s population at the Pine Bush Preserve was threatened with extinction.
The quarter-sized Karner blue butterfly was identified in the 1940s by novelist Vladimir Nabokov in the Colonie hamlet known as Karner. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that when the species was protected as endangered, the range-wide population had declined by up to 99 percent. The butterfly depends on the wild lupine plant, which cannot tolerate shade, but is native to the Pine Bush.
“New York is committed to protecting the state’s natural resources and environmental treasures for future generations, including endangered species like the Karner blue butterfly,” said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.
The DEC, the USFWS and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission collaborated in the effort to save the butterfly by
preserving what is the best remaining example of an inland pitch pine-scrub oak barrens in the world, the Pine Bush. Programs that include controlled burns, forest thinning and restoration seeding have also helped many other rare animals and helped protect pollinators and forest wildlife.
“The Albany Pine Bush partners have shown that recovery is possible for the endangered Karner blue butterfly,” said USFWS Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber. “By managing the barrens for the endangered butterfly, the commission is bringing along many other types of rare wildlife, including the at-risk spotted turtle, wood turtle and frosted elfin butterfly.”
To help ensure that Karner blue butterflies persist into the future, the USFWS established 13 federal recovery units across the species’ range, which also includes Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Ohio. Within each unit, the USFWS described the number and size of populations thought to be necessary for recovery. The Albany Pine Bush is one of three recovery areas in New York referred to as the Glacial Lake Albany Recovery Unit.
“The commission is proud of the incredible team of staff, volunteers, and public and private partners that have over many years made it possible for us to advance this species’ recovery and pine barrens restoration in the Albany Pine Bush,” said Pine Bush Preserve Commission Executive Director Christopher Hawver.
The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is about 3,300 acres of land that supports 76 New York state-disignated wildlife Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including the Karner blue butterfly.