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Karner Blue Butterfly Endangered Species Management Plan nears completion

Finalization of the draft Karner blue butterfly Endangered Species Management Plan for Fort McCoy will help installation Endangered Species personnel do more on-the-ground management for Karner blue butterflies. The plan also will help to maintain the conservation goal of having a minimum of 6,000 Karner blue butterflies in each of the installation's two main population centers as set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A Karner blue butterfly on North Post.
A Karner blue butterfly on North Post. (Photo by Rob Schuette)

Click here to read about the life span of  Karner blue butterflies

Tim Wilder, Fort McCoy Endangered Species biologist, said the plan has been sent out for public review and input. The plan will undergo a final review in the next few weeks prior to being sent to the installation commander, the U.S. Army Reserve Command and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final approval.

The plan is required by Army Regulation 200-3 and the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Karner blue butterfly was listed as a federally endangered species in December 1992 by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the authority of the Federal Endangered Species Act.

"Karner blues first were observed at Fort McCoy about 10 to 11 years ago," Wilder said.

The plan has three objectives. First, it assists in the conservation of the Karner blue butterfly while continuing the successful completion of the military mission. Second, it strives for landscape-scale management. Third, it considers multiple species management (such as other state or federally listed species and species of concern), while primarily focusing on the conservation of the Karner blue butterfly.

"One of the good things about writing the plan is that a team of people were involved," Wilder said. "The team had members from the Directorate of Training and Mobilization, the Directorate of Support Services Environmental Division and the Judge Advocate Office. This diversity in the membership helped to minimize conflicts between training requirements and the needs of this endangered species."

After the plan is implemented, Wilder said it will help the installation meet its conservation goals to maintain and increase the Karner blue population and its habitat. Three distinct populations of Karner blues are found at Fort McCoy, one on North Post, one on South Post and one in the far southwest corner of the installation. Wilder said the far southwest corner site has a smaller Karner blue population than the other two sites.

Karner blue butterflies need an open habitat, such as the Oak Barrens/Savanna that is found at Fort McCoy. This habitat also features wild lupine, which is a necessary food source for the Karner blue larvae.

Paul Francik, chief of DTM Range Division, said the policies outlined in the plan should benefit military lands by making the lands more usable by soldiers.

"The soldiers also want the forest opened up more to allow for easier movement of vehicles through the areas," Francik said. "The practical theory behind this is that the disturbance caused by vehicle movements will be widely scattered so there won't be long-term negative impacts to lupine and Karner blue butterflies. In fact, the scattered disturbance will likely create seedbed conditions that will benefit lupine growth."

Francik said soldiers are made aware of Karner blues and other environmental concerns during range briefings. Because of the large amount of lupine and Karner blue butterflies, few restrictions are placed on military training. If there are restrictions, the installation has been able to find other locations on the installation to accomplish the training.

"If we are to successfully manage this species, while at the same time reducing negative impacts to training, we need a plan," Francik said. "This plan along with our Range and Training Land Plan and the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan will all complement each other."

Wilder said the Karner blue plan also addresses working with the Black River State Forest in Jackson County to establish and maintain connectivity between the Karner blue population on North Post and the Karner blue population in the Black River State Forest.

Several methods of habitat management will be implemented at Fort McCoy. Wilder said most involve removing undesirable vegetation. Removal is accomplished in several ways, including using chain saws; having members of the Land Rehabilitation and Maintenance (LRAM) team use a shredder, which grinds up small trees; engaging in logging practices and timber sales; and conducting prescribed burning. Military training also can create potential habitat for lupine and also increases the density and distribution of the plant by reducing the competition from trees and shrubs.

Expertise from other environmental programs will be used to help manage the habitat. For example, Wilder said a small amount of spotted knappweed, a nonnative, invasive plant, has been identified in several Karner blue habitat areas. Prompt removal actions will ensure it doesn't become a threat, he said.

"The plan allows us to focus on the management of the habitat and increase the number of butterflies," Wilder said. "Prior to the completion of the plan, all activities that improved habitat for the Karner blue were a secondary result of actions taken for another purpose."

An added benefit is that the Karner blue habitat supports other plant, insect and animal species, perhaps including some that may exist that installation personnel don't yet know about, Wilder said.

A monitoring plan that covers the indefinite future must be implemented as part of the management plan, Wilder said.

Starting in 2001, the installation will begin to resurvey Karner blue habitat (lupine). This survey is expected to take four years to complete.

Surveys to estimate the population of adult Karner blues will be more extensive than in previous years by attempting to count the butterflies over a wider area. This will allow for a more accurate estimate of Karner numbers and allow Endangered Species personnel to determine if the installation is reaching its conservation goal of 6,000 butterflies per main population area. Endangered Species personnel also will collect vegetation data about Karner blue butterfly habitat.

Wilder said insect populations can vary dramatically from year to year because of a number of factors, including climatic conditions. The more information the installation has, the better prepared it will be to do something if the number of butterflies begins to drop.

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