Fort McCoy News June 12, 2015

Joint effort improves off-post butterfly habitat

Since 1990, Fort McCoy has worked continuously to improve the habitat for the Karner blue butterfly, which is on the federal Endangered Species List. That effort also has extended to habitat improvement off of the installation for the past three years.

In 2013, the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch (NRB) established an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) concerning the Karner blue butterfly, said Endangered Species Biologist Tim Wilder of the NRB.

Photo 1
A Karner blue butterfly perches atop a wild lupine plant in a
savanna area on Fort McCoy.
Photo by Tim Wilder

The agreement provides a mechanism to mitigate incidental take for Karner blue butterfly habitat off of the installation.

"Take" is defined by the federal Endangered Species Act as an effort to "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect any threatened or endangered species."

"Incidental take for the Karner blue butterfly is based on the acreage of wild lupine that is disturbed," Wilder said. "Wild lupine is the only known food plant for the butterfly's larvae."

According to the agreement, when Fort McCoy plans to permanently take habitat from the butterfly, a military interdepartmental purchase request is used to transfer funds from Fort McCoy to the USFWS, which in turn ensures mitigation is completed off the installation to create or enhance butterfly habitat.

Further, the USFWS provides funds to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), which uses the money to improve butterfly habitat on WDNR properties that have not yet met conservation goals. For each acre of butterfly habitat that is permanently lost due to construction on Fort McCoy, at least 1 acre of habitat will be restored or enhanced off post.

"The Karner blue butterfly cannot be removed from the Endangered Species List until all recovery goals have been met," Wilder said. "Fort McCoy has met its recovery goals for the butterfly, while the WDNR is still working to meet their goals.

"By providing funds to the USFWS that can be used on WDNR lands to manage this species, Fort McCoy is assisting in the recovery of the butterfly off the installation and increasing the possibility this species will be delisted," Wilder said.

Photo 2
Wild lupine plants in bloom on the installation. Photo by Scott T. Sturkol

Karner blue butterflies first were observed at Fort McCoy more than 25 years ago. To survive, the butterflies need open habitat areas, such as oak barrens and savanna, Wilder said. These areas contain the necessary wild lupine, which is a perennial plant in the pea family with pink to blue flowers that grows in dry, sandy soils in open to partially shaded habitats.

NRB efforts have helped increase wild-lupine growth throughout the installation, which also has increased the Karner blue butterfly population, Wilder said. Now that success is continuing in areas off the installation.

"For all parties involved, this is a win-win situation," Wilder said. "Fort McCoy now has a relatively inexpensive mechanism to complete mitigation requirements while also reducing the potential for future conflicts between military training and endangered species on the installation. Through this agreement, Fort McCoy and the USFWS are continuing the recovery of the butterfly off the installation while increasing the likelihood that this species will eventually be delisted."

For more information about the Karner blue butterfly and endangered species at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-5679.

   (Prepared by the Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office and the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch.)