Wisconsin nurtures the world’s largest population of the globally rare Karner blue butterfly, and people have a chance to review and comment by April 22 on the renewal of the federal permit governing how landowners can avoid harming butterfly populations while pursuing projects in areas with Karner habitat.
The Karner blue is a butterfly the size of a postage stamp that has fed on wildflowers in Wisconsin for thousands of years. Its populations have declined in Wisconsin and elsewhere as development, agriculture and fire suppression decreased the open habitat areas necessary for the butterflies’ survival. The Karner caterpillar eats only wild lupine, a plant found in oak and pine barrens communities and sometimes in dry prairies, all of which are among the rarest landscapes in the world.
Eastern Jackson County and northern Monroe County are considered prime Karner blue habitat.
The butterfly was listed as federally endangered in 1992. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources received a federal permit for incidental take in 1999 after developing a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan. The incidental take permit allows certain activities − such as roadside maintenance and timber harvests in Karner habitat − but attempts to ensure those activities are carried out in ways that conserve and restore the butterfly and its habitat, such as waiting to mow until after the butterflies have completed their annual flight.
The plan was the nation’s first statewide Habitat Conservation Plan and was recognized by Smithsonian Magazine as one of 10 top endangered species stories of the year.
The proposed renewal of the incidental take permit and Habitat Conservation Plan will allow people in Wisconsin to continue to do otherwise lawful activities that may result in the incidental taking of the butterfly under the federal Endangered Species Act while making sure the necessary conservation measures are in place to minimize impacts. First renewed in 2009, this will be the second renewal of Wisconsin’s Karner blue butterfly federal incidental take permit.
Comments should be sent to Becky Roth, Wisconsin DNR, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921 or Rebecca.Roth@Wisconsin.gov.