Endangered Karner blue butterfly population booming

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Karner Blue Butterfly

A Karner Blue butterfly after its release at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission in 2015. (AP / Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The population of endangered Karner blue butterflies at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, native to the Capital Region ecosystem, is exploding this season. The current population size cannot be counted until the season ends, but staff say they count hundreds on surveys at sites throughout the preserve.

Field ecologist and entomologist Amanda Dillon, who has conducted annual surveys since 2010, said, “The numbers of butterflies we are seeing this month is unlike anything previously documented in the preserve.”

Karner blues were first added to the federal list of endangered species in 1992, when they numbered only a few hundred because of habitat loss. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the population had declined by up to 99%. The Albany Pine Bush Commission dedicated its resources to reestablishing the unique ecosystem necessary for the butterfly to flourish.

By 2013, they grew to number over 3,000 in the Pine Bush, which is an important recovery threshold set by the USFWS. Systematic controlled burns, forest thinning, restoration seeding, and environmental education have helped the quarter-sized Karners—once on the brink of extinction—stay above 7,000 since 2013.

“In a laboratory, protected from weather, predation and disease, we have seen that Karners have a high reproductive capacity, with individual females successfully producing hundreds of offspring,” said Conservation Director Neil Gifford. “Conditions in the wild are seldom that perfect, but every once in a while things can line up, and that’s what we believe we are witnessing in the preserve right now.”

The Karner blue butterfly was first identified in the 1940s in the Colonie hamlet of Karner by novelist Vladimir Nabokov, author of “Pale Fire.”

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