Volume 17, Issue 49
The U.S. military is helping a tiny rare butterfly flourish by providing the living space for these butterflies on their military bases; right next to tanks and other military vehicles.
The butterfly is called a frosted elfin and it has a wingspan of an inch. They choose to call several military bases home because of the way the military manages open spaces, said Robyn Niver, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Military training requires vast open areas, so these bases are some of our last great wild places,” Niver said.
The butterfly has been confirmed to be living at Westover Air Reserve Base and Camp Edwards in Massachusetts; Fort McCoy in Wisconsin; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and the New Hampshire State Military Reservation, she said.
It is not just coincidence that has the frosted elfin choosing to live at multiple military bases. All of these bases manage their vegetation through controlled burns, which create the perfect conditions for wild blue lupine and indigo to grow, the frosted elfin caterpillar’s two host plants.
The small butterflies were first seen at Westover in Chicopee, Massachusetts, about 20 years ago, according to Jack Moriarty, the base’s chief of environmental engineering.
The reason for the strict vegetation control at the base is because it is critical for the safety of the massive C5 military transport aircraft that are housed there. If the vegetation is cut too short, it attracts geese and gulls, increasing the risk of aircraft strikes. If it is allowed to grow too tall, turkeys, deer, and coyotes move in. Lupine and indigo are just the right height.
Though there have been stories of earlier sightings, the frosted elfin was official confirmed at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod just this spring, said Jake McCumber, the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s natural resources manager.
“It was pretty exciting. I was thrilled,” he said. “Our grasslands are in the headquarters area, so it’s probably the busiest part of the base.”
The area is used for the setup of field artillery equipment and helicopter exercises.
The frosted elfin has lived in Fort McCoy for about two decades but it appears that recently the population has exploded, said Tim Wilder, the base’s endangered species biologist. An annual count found about 130 of the insects on the base this spring, the most since the survey began in 2009.
Frosted elfins –which live anywhere from New England to Florida, and as far west as Texas — are not on the federal list of endangered species, but they are headed there, Niver said. Several states already list them as protected, and they have disappeared completely from others.
The hope is that the knowledge gained about the populations of frosted elfins — and a whole host of other rare insects, birds, bats and turtles that thrive on military bases — can be replicated elsewhere.
“Our next step now is finding out how we can work with other partners besides the military to try to boost numbers of rare species on other lands as well,” Niver said.
Source: Pratt, Mark. “Rare Butterfly Thrives On, and Because Of, U.S. Military Bases.” The Denver Post. The Denver Post, 03 July 2017. Web. 03 July 2017.