Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly Release

Butterfly chrysalises will be held at the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center, through July 16 and perhaps longer depending on the rate at which the adult butterflies emerge.

By Neil Gifford, Conservation Director



ALBANY, NY – The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission (Commission) invited press to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve (APBP) for a unique opportunity to view the release of Karner blue butterflies raised as part of their efforts to recover this endangered species.  The release occured on July 15, 2021 at 2840 Curry Road in the town of Colonie.

NYSDEC purchased the property with a $235,000 Recovery Lands Acquisition Grant from USFWS.  Successful habitat restoration has prepared the site for the butterflies’ return. The butterfly chrysalises will be held at the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center, located at 195 New Karner Road in Albany, through July 16 and perhaps longer depending on the rate at which the adult butterflies emerge. Additional releases will occur daily.

According to APBPC Executive Director Christopher Hawver, “This is a clear example of the exceptional efforts to manage this globally-rare habitat by the Commission’s conservation science and stewardship team working in close partnership with our state and federal partners.”

“The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has been an outstanding partner in the recovery of the Karner blue butterfly in New York State,” stated David Stilwell, Supervisor of the USFWS New York Field Office. “The USFWS is pleased that the Commission has taken advantage of Recovery Land Acquisition grants to expand areas for Karner blue butterfly, including this release location.  The Commission’s expertise in habitat restoration efforts for this species has led to exceeding Recovery Plan population targets for the Albany Pine Bush metapopulation over the past 9 years.”
“By partnering with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, and other stakeholders, we are successfully advancing the restoration of the Karner blue butterfly at this globally rare and special place,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The Karner blue’s comeback continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of science-based habitat management that DEC and our federal, state, and local partners are implementing to help this endangered species thrive.”

“The return of Karner blue butterflies to places where they were previously abundant is a delightful and important contribution in the fight against rapid biodiversity loss. The Nature Conservancy commends the Albany Pine Bush Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for their commitment to collaborative conservation and habitat restoration. This successful effort is enabling a recovery of the endangered Karner blue and protecting many other plants and pollinators that rely on these rare habitats to survive and thrive,” said Stuart F. Gruskin, The Nature Conservancy’s chief conservation and external affairs officer.

After more than 50 years of decline, the Karner blue butterfly has returned to former haunts throughout many parts of the 3,350-acre APBP.  This insect, first studied and named by zoologist and renowned author Vladimir Nabokov in 1944, can now be found at nearly 60 sites covering more than 700 acres of the APBP.

“Releasing butterflies into newly restored habitat is an important step in getting this iconic species secure enough that they can be taken off state and federal endangered species lists”, says the Commission’s Conservation Director, Neil Gifford.  Gifford added, “We are also incredibly grateful for the work of the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, who raise the butterflies for us at their facility in Concord, New Hampshire.”

According to Gifford, 24 wild adult female Karners were captured in the APBP on May 27, 2021 and transported to Concord, where the eggs they produced were raised to chrysalises and returned to the Commission. The resulting adults are emerging at the Discovery Center and released daily at a site that is too isolated for them to find on their own. In many cases, these “new” colonies represent the return of this animal to the very locations where it was once abundant.  According to Gifford, “We have returned Karners to 26 locations across the Preserve between 2008 and 2015 and all the sites continue to support self-sufficient populations. The preserve supported at least 46,100 Karner blue butterflies in 2020.”

APBP is located in New York’s Capital District and protects one of the best remaining inland pitch pine-scrub oak barrens in the world. This extraordinary fire-dependent ecosystem provides habitat for many plants and animals, including more than 20% of New York State’s wildlife species of greatest conservation need, such as the endangered Karner blue butterfly. The APBP is a National Natural Landmark, Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area Site, a New York State Unique Area and Bird Conservation Area, and a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area. Characterized by rolling sand dunes and over 20 miles of trails, the APBP offers visitors many recreational opportunities including hiking, bird watching, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and canoeing. The Commission is a public-private partnership created by the New York State Legislature in 1988 to protect and manage the APBP and provide the public with educational and recreational opportunities. The management plan for the APBP guides all aspects of expanding and managing the preserve.  The Commission’s goal is a preserve of 5,380 acres.

As the gateway to the APBP, the Discovery Center is a “green” certified interpretive center where visitors come to understand why the APBP is rare and special. A visit to this unique destination is an exciting exploration where learning comes naturally through interactive exhibits, an outdoor discovery trail, and numerous programs on the ecology, natural history, cultural history and management of the APBP. Admission to the Discovery Center is free, although there is a fee for some programs. The Center is open with limited hours. For more information, visit www.AlbanyPineBush.org or call 518-456-0655.

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