500 Rare Butterflies Discovered in Oregon

Posted on Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Associated Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. – About 500 rare butterflies were recently found thriving in the hills west of here, thrilling conservationists who hope the colorful Taylor’s checkerspot will fight back from near extinction.

The new colony, along with roughly 1,000 butterflies on nearby private and county park land, account for about three-quarters of all Taylor’s checkerspot known to exist. The rest are scattered across 10 sites in western Washington.

“It’s extremely exciting, because this is the largest population we have on publicly managed land,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society.

The Portland-based invertebrate conservation group has asked the federal government to declare Taylor’s checkerspot an endangered species.

“We found the population where they’re already trying to do habitat restoration,” he said.
An ecologist found the latest population in some meadows at the county-owned Beazell Memorial Forest north of Philomath late last month.

Significant loss of upland prairie in the Willamette Valley over the past century and a half has nearly wiped out the butterfly, Hoffman Black said.

Scientists estimate less than 1 percent of this important habitat remains in isolated spots threatened by invasive weeds, encroaching fir trees and development.

“As the prairie habitat has gone, the butterfly has gone,” Hoffman Black said.

The new population is a pat on the back for Benton County, which has worked to improve habitat and preserve pockets of native prairie. The butterflies feed on wild strawberry, hairy cat’s ear, rosy plectritis and other native wildflowers.

“It’s an excellent indicator that we’re doing something correctly,” county Parks Director Jerry Davis said. “This shows we have some really nice property and what we’re doing is not messing it up.”

The Xerces Society began working to protect the butterfly and its habitat four years ago. It has developed a close partnership with Benton County, which is trying to protect the largest population about 1,000 in and around the parks department’s Fitton Green Natural Area, north of Philomath.

The plight of the butterfly persuaded the society to pursue its first-ever lawsuit. It recently filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place Taylor’s checkerspot on the endangered species list.

The agency lists Taylor’s checkerspot as a candidate for the list, Hoffman Black said, but often it takes pressure from environmental groups to compel the agency to formally list a species.

Hoffman Black said the species occupied more than 70 sites as recently as the mid-1970s.

“We’ve lost at least 60 populations in the last 30 years,” he said. “So we know this butterfly is endangered and needs to be protected. We do not want to sit on our hands.”