PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> The Xerces Society Postscript to the Butterfly Big Year Blogs: Not Far Tortuga, But Close - The Xerces Society

 

Postscript to the Butterfly Big Year Blogs: Not Far Tortuga, But Close

Dear Folks,

The trip is finished, and so are the blogs, but I wanted to provide a brief coda to bring it all back home. As you know, the Orion and Xerces blogs have carried different, complementary content all along, But for this little epilog, I’ve decided to send a single note to both sources, and to do it with electrons via Thea’s computer. Forgive me for not mailing any doodads or tree trunks or trash bits from the road this time. I came home to our biggest snow in thirty years, which melted and rained and blew into one of our biggest floods within just 48 hours, and the road to the post office has been blocked by deep, rushing water. So here, in conventional fashion, is a wrap-up to the whole deal:

The Christmas blizzard in Portland barely let me out of town, and Chicago was worse, with hundreds of stranded holiday evacuees still stashed and crashed around O’Hare wherever they could find prone space. Yet I made it to Fort Lauderdale only a day late, where the incomparable Alana Edwards picked me up. Alana and her mother Lana, bright lights in the Atala Chapter of NABA, made my valedictory trip to Florida possible. Alana had arranged permits and transportation, including the rangers’ boat to stilll-wild Lignum Vitae Key. For the next few days, we prowled hammocks and mangroves in the Glades and the Keys in search of butterflies I’d not yet encountered.

I had hoped to venture out to Dry Tortuga National Park, to see out the year in the most distal point of the U.S. However, time, expense, and the paucity of butterflies there all militated against a Tortugan finish. The next farthest place I could go, where I’d never been before and where exotic (=outlandish) species of butterflies drifted or blown in from Cuba or elsewhere in the Antilles are always possible, was Key West. Alana kindly and heroically fought the holiday traffic (early mornings helped) to get me there, with interim outings on several of the Keys. Well acquainted with the butterflies, the plants, and the places, and extraordinarily observant, Alana was the best of guides. Among other naturalists we met, resident butterflier, gardener, artist, and devoted conservationist Paula Cannon joined us, and led us to remnant habitats she’s worked hard to save. At her tranquil home on a quay in the Keys, Paula prepared and served us elegant, slender silver fish that she and her husband Gary had caught in local waters, with the wonderful name of look-down fish.

While only a few of the possible new species deigned to show up, they were very special ones: the brilliant Florida purplewing shining in dappled sunlight on Lignum Vitae; the endangered Miami blue, just one among hundreds of Cassius blues, on little Bahia Honda; and the bright, long-tailed Bartram’s hairstreak, which I’d been seeking off and on since early spring, right where we hoped it would be on Big Pine Key. We toasted them all with Florida ale (some the year’s last) at the notorious No Name Pub on tiny No Name Key. These rare butterflies have survived, maybe just, in spite of the over-zealous burning of pine rockland, mosquito spraying, and overall development of these overloved and undervalued islets. Horny hordes of Jurassic-looking iguanas throng the Keys, released and escaped and now all but in charge, skinning nickerbean and other butterfly host-plants from the thin coral soil. Hurricanes, too, have wiped habitats free of structure and diversity. But perversely, sea heliotrope has proliferated along the beach of Big Pine since Hurricane Wilma, attracting a spectacular showing of big, bright hammock and mangrove skippers, tropic queens, and Martial’s hairstreaks. We reveled in the waning year’s last butterfly throes. For me, anyway. Down here, they never stop.

Of course, I could have seen more novel species had I just remained in Texas: my friends in the Lower Rio Grande Valley spotted more than a dozen that would have been new for me within days of my departure. But then I would have missed Hawaii with Thea, Arctic Portland with our family, and this splendid immersion among these shimmering denizens of Old Florida, and those who love, study, and care for them and their besieged habitats. And has anyone else ever had the astonishing good fortune to seek butterflies on both Kaua’i and the Keys in the same week?

Masses of butterflies accompanied me down to Key West and all around it, and I enjoyed them fully, knowing they’d be the last, and have to last me, for a long time. Even greater masses of human beings filled the final Key for its noted New Year’s blast. I mostly managed to escape them, finding tucked-away habitats among the city’s nature reserves, ancient salt flats and the remoter fringes of Civil War-era Fort Zachary Taylor, where mangrove buckeyes flickered and hundreds of various yellows mocked the winter. But the most exciting butterfly–what a finish if it had lingered, instead of sailing away far over a condo!–appeared at a patch of Spanish needles in a vacant lot by a busy intersection: a mystery beauty that to my eyes most resembled a Hypanartia, or mapwing: a tropical genus recorded no nearer than Cuba or Veracruz.

Just east of the spot billed “as the southernmost point in the U.S.” lies South Beach–some ways southward of the one where diet came from. There, my feet in the sea, my butt on an algal-green coral slab, I watched the sun set on the year and the venture. When the last gulf fritillary, cloudless sulphur, and fiery skipper went to roost, I’d tallied 488 species, unofficially–489, if you count the mystery nymphalid that came and went over the Caribbean. The last sun of 2008 disappeared into a diffuse pink contrail from Havana, and that was that.

Of course I couldn’t quite escape the New Year’s craziness of Key West, from the drag diva named Sushi (another species of tropic queen) who descends in a big red high-heeled shoe at midnight, to the lightly clad legions promenading Duval Street in a viscous flow of sweat, skin, drink, and cigar smoke, all but impenetrable for an outlander with backpack and a butterfly net, complete with aluminum extendable handle. Pity I’d shed the tiki torch in Portland: it would have fit right in. I took refuge on the sofa of an Irish pub called Bogart’s until four A.M., when the bars closed, the human cacophony subsided, and the many feral roosters (just as in Hawai’i: here was the real link between Kaua’i and the Keys) began to crow. I recall a moment in there when an inebriated and pretty young blonde launched herself onto my lap with vigor, and another when a fellow leaned in from the street to insist that I was Ernest Hemingway resurrected. Those were the high points of an evening that suffered, on the whole, in contrast with that charmed week’s final field trips.

I found a tree in a secluded part of the fort with spreading roots that welcomed me for a couple of hours of sleep. And in the morning, after I’d mollified both the Navy folks and the State Park ranger who challenged my presence there, I discovered an isolated cove where I bathed, swam, and watched a great southern white fly off across the Straits of Florida. Then I greeted the New Year among a school of beautiful pipefish, their long, thin bills and tails the same color as the sea that stretched away toward far Tortuga.

***

I want to thank Hal Clifford and Scott Walker at Orion Magazine, and Sean Tenney and Sarina Jepsen at the Xerces Society, for their heroic stewardship of my motley materials to produce these weblogs of the first Butterfly Big Year; and for their generosity in sharing interlinks and this final entry between them. Especially, I am thankful to those of you who have read and followed along with me on this long strange trip in the charmed company of butterflies, or not. I hope what has come through more than anything is the sense of extreme privilege I have felt in spending a year of my life this way. I am deeply grateful to Orion and Xerces for allowing me to share it with you in this medium. There is much, much more to tell–but for that, you’ll just have to read the book. Happy New Year, and keep an eye out for butterflies in aught-nine,

Bob

Pair of iguanas, male above, on Big Pine Key. Photo by Paula Cannon.

Pair of iguanas, male above, on Big Pine Key. Photo by Paula Cannon.

Sponge Bob. Photo by Paula Cannon.

Sponge Bob. Photo by Paula Cannon.

Male martial's hairstreak, whose larvae feed on bay cedar in southern Florida. Photo by Paula Cannon.

Male martial's hairstreak, whose larvae feed on bay cedar in southern Florida. Photo by Paula Cannon.

A pair of gulf fritillaries, male above, in courtship display. Photo by Paula Cannon.

A pair of gulf fritillaries, male above, in courtship display. Photo by Paula Cannon.

Male Bartram's scrub hairstreak at Navy Wells. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Male Bartram's scrub hairstreak at Navy Wells. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Bob Pyle eye-to-eye with Bartram's scrub hairstreak. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Bob Pyle eye-to-eye with Bartram's scrub hairstreak. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Ranger Clark and Bob walking through the hammock at Ligunum Vitae Key. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Ranger Clark and Bob walking through the hammock at Lignum Vitae Key. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Florida purplewing on Lignum vitae Key. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Florida purplewing on Lignum vitae Key. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Caterpillar tractor. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Caterpillar tractor. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Leaving Lignum Vitae Key with park staff. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Leaving Lignum Vitae Key with park staff. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Mangrove skipper pupae. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Mangrove skipper pupa. Photo by Alana Edwards.

No name pub. Photo by Alana Edwards.

No name pub. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Dorsal hammock skipper. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Dorsal hammock skipper. Photo by Alana Edwards.

Paula Cannon, Bob Pyle and Alana Edwards.

Paula Cannon, Bob Pyle and Alana Edwards.


 

The Xerces Society Postscript to the Butterfly Big Year Blogs: Not Far Tortuga, But Close - The Xerces Society

Insects Lose as Trump Administration Weakens the Endangered Species Act

The Trump administration has introduced changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that are truly disastrous for endangered pollinators and other wildlife. Unless a court issues an injunction, these new regulations (which can be read here, here, and here) will go into effect on September 26, and will make it much harder to protect and recover the animals that are struggling to survive and need our help the most.

The new rules were introduced under the guise of clarifying the implementation of the ESA, but in reality, they severely weaken a law that has been effectively used for decades to prevent wildlife from going extinct. The ESA works: it has prevented 99% of listed species from going extinct. These changes represent a clear win for industry and development, at the expense of our nation’s most vulnerable wildlife.

There are five main areas of concern arising from the new regulations:

 

Economic Costs Are Now Considered When Making Listing Decisions

Among the most concerning of the changes is one allowing for the use of economic analyses in making decisions regarding whether or not to list a species under the ESA. This is egregious, as the law itself clearly articulates that decisions should be based solely on the best available science, not on the cost of protecting a species. Allowing economic analyses in endangered species listing decisions could prevent any species from being ESA listed in the future, even if it clearly faces a high extinction risk. The cost of protection should not matter. All species deserve a place on the planet.

 

Karner blue butterfly

The endangered Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) has both ecological and intrinsic value. (Photo: Ottawa County Parks / Flickr Creative Commons 2.0)

 

Threatened Species No Longer Receive Protections

In the past, a species listed as threatened was given the same protections as an endangered species. This will no longer be the case should these rules take effect. The monarch butterfly—which the Xerces Society and conservation partners petitioned to be protected as a threatened species under the ESA in 2014—could ultimately be listed as threatened, but despite the fact that the western population has declined by more than 99% since the 1980s and the entire North American population is on an extinction trajectory, there would be no actual protection afforded to this iconic butterfly.

 

Monarch overwintering in California

The western population of the monarch (Danaus plexippus) has declined by more than 99% since the 1980s, and the entire North American population is on an extinction trajectory. In spite of this, were this species to be listed as “threatened”, there would be no actual protection afforded to this iconic butterfly. (Photo: Xerces Society / Candace Fallon)

 

Critical Habitat Designations Will Be Less Frequent and Less Meaningful

The new rules make it easier for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to not designate Critical Habitat (areas deemed essential for a listed species to recover), even though the intent of the ESA is to designate Critical Habitat for all listed species—with only very rare exceptions. Additionally, the rule will make it more difficult for the USFWS to designate Critical Habitat in areas that aren’t currently occupied by a species. Removing the need to designate Critical Habitat severely weakens one of the most important parts of the ESA: The requirement that a federal agency consults with the USFWS to ensure that any action the agency takes, funds, or authorizes does not destroy or adversely modify Critical Habitat.

 

Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces)

The namesake of the Xerces Society, the Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), was the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities. Development in the sand dunes of San Francisco destroyed the Xerces blue’s habitat, and the species was extinct by the 1940s. (Photo: Xerces Society / Larry Orsak)

 

Species May Be Delisted Before They Have Actually Recovered

Once a species is ESA listed, a recovery plan is developed—often with input from species experts—which guides conservation efforts. Traditionally, once recovery goals have been met, the species can be taken off of the ESA list. However, one of these new rules stipulates that a species’ recovery plan goals do not need to be met before the species is delisted. For example, the rusty patched bumble bee is our only ESA-listed bee in the continental U.S. A recovery plan is being developed for this species, but it could now be removed from the ESA list before it has actually recovered.

 

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

The rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) became the first bumble bee in the continental United States to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. With new rule changes, it is possible it could be removed from the endangered species list before it is actually recovered. (Photo: Xerces Society / Sarina Jepsen)

 

Species Threatened by Climate Change Will Be Harder to Protect

These new rules also make it much harder to protect species that are primarily impacted by climate change—a serious threat to the survival of so many species. For instance, if climate change is the sole threat to a species’ habitat, this new rule stipulates that this habitat should not be protected as Critical Habitat. Further, when making a decision to list a species, the USFWS needs to determine if it is likely to go extinct in the “foreseeable future”. One of the new rules defines “foreseeable future” in such a way that many of the impacts of climate change on a species could be ignored in a listing decision.

 

Uncompahgre fritillary

The Uncompahgre fritillary (Boloria acrocnema) lives only in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and only in certain microhabitats above twelve thousand feet. Climate change thus puts it at risk of extinction. (Photo: Xerces Society / Scott Hoffman Black)

 

Some recent announcements relating to ESA protections makes one wonder if the new rules were already influencing decision-making. Just two weeks before the new regulations were published, the USFWS determined that the yellow-banded bumble bee should not be listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA despite a clear analysis by its own agency biologists indicating that the bumble bee has undergone a dramatic contraction in range which is likely to continue into the future. The yellow-banded bumble bee has already disappeared from Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia—more than half of the states where it used to live.

Further, in the states where the yellow-banded bumble bee remains, its occupancy and relative abundance are far lower than they were historically. Under all modeled scenarios, the USFWS found that this bee has very low resiliency in the future across most of its range. The current condition and future trajectory of this bee illustrates the very reason that the Endangered Species Act was written in the first place: to prevent species from going extinct. If we let the condition of imperiled species get so close to extinction before they receive protection, how can we ever expect them to recover?

 

Yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola)

The USFWS recently determined that the yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola) should not be listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, despite clear evidence that the species is imperiled. (Photo: Xerces Society / Sarah Foltz Jordan)

 

Similarly, USFWS recently proposed listing Franklin’s bumble bee—responding to a petition Dr. Robbin Thorp and the Xerces Society filed in 2010—but failed to designate Critical Habitat. Though the most significant threats to Franklin’s bumble bees include disease from managed bees, pesticide use (in particular the systemic neonicotinoid pesticides), and a small population size, identifying and protecting this species’ key habitats is an essential component of its recovery.

Earlier this year, the Xerces Society and Center for Biological Diversity asked for emergency ESA protection for the Bethany Beach firefly. One of only seven coastal sand dunes where it occurs is actively being developed, which is likely to wipe out the population. Here is an example of a species that desperately needs protection—but with revised rules regarding how the ESA is implemented, does a species that is so clearly endangered have a chance at receiving protection? And if it does, will it be meaningful?

I’m left wondering: Who really wants to live in and pass on a world without a diversity of butterflies to fill the sky, bees to pollinate our food and flowers, and fireflies to light up the night? Clearly, those who wrote and support these new rules think that is an acceptable future.

Written by Sarina Jepsen, director of the Xerces Society’s endangered species conservation program.

Further Reading

Read our press release regarding the proposed Franklin’s bumble bee listing.

Read our press release regarding the Bethany Beach firefly petition.

Learn more about the dire situation facing western monarchs.

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species Conservation Program.

Click here to donate!

Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes Endangered Species Act protection for Franklin’s bumble bee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts

Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (503) 468-8405, [email protected]

Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Co-Chair of the IUCN Bumble Bee Specialist Group, (971) 244-3727, [email protected]

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes Endangered Species Act protection for Franklin’s bumble bee

The Xerces Society applauds efforts to protect this imperiled species

 

PORTLAND, Ore.; August 12, 2019—Responding to a petition from the Xerces Society and the late Dr. Robbin Thorp, Professor Emeritus at University of California–Davis, tomorrow the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will propose to list Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini) as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), making it the first bee in the western U.S. to be officially recognized under the ESA.

Franklin’s bumble bee has the most restricted range of any bumble bee in the world; it is known only in southern Oregon and northern California between the Coast and Sierra-Cascade Ranges. Its entire distribution can be covered by an oval of about 190 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west. A precipitous decline began in 1999, and despite an extensive amount of searching, Franklin’s bumble bee has not been seen since 2006. The primary threats to this species include: 1) diseases from managed bees, 2) pesticides, and 3) a small population size.

The Xerces Society and Dr. Thorp formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Franklin’s bumble bee in 2010.

Dr. Thorp, a leader in bumble bee conservation for decades, conducted surveys for Franklin’s bumble bee for more than two decades and was the first person to call attention to the decline in Franklin’s bumble bee and other formerly common bumble bees. He passed away in June 2019.

“We welcome this decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to extend ESA protection to Franklin’s bumble bee,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of the Xerces Society’s endangered species conservation program. “This bee urgently needs all the help it can get.”

While many native pollinators have suffered declines related to loss of habitat and pesticides, the sudden decline of Franklin’s bumble bee and some of its closest relatives—including the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis)—was likely initiated by a fungus that spread from managed bees. This hypothesis was first introduced by Dr. Thorp, and has been extensively tested by a team led by Dr. Sydney Cameron of the University of Illinois—who determined that commercial bumble bees were likely responsible for spreading and amplifying this pathogen across North America. For Franklin’s bumble bee, the effects of this fungus may have been compounded by insecticide use; loss of habitat; and, given its restricted historic range, a small population size.

 “The decline in bumble bees like Franklin’s bumble bee should serve as an alarm that we are losing important pollinators,” said Xerces Society Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black. “We hope that the story of the Franklin’s bumble bee will compel us to prevent pollinators across the U.S. from sliding toward extinction.”

To better understand the status of all bumble bees in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and to encourage people to continue searching for Franklin’s bumble bee, the Xerces Society and conservation partners have launched a new project utilizing the contributions of community scientists to help map bumble bees in the Pacific Northwest. This region is home to nearly thirty species of these charismatic and easily recognizable bees, and many of them face an uncertain future.

The Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas is spearheaded by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The partners collaborate with community scientists to collect information on bumble bees across the Pacific Northwest.

“If we hope to find Franklin’s bumble bee again, we need all hands on deck,” said Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society. “With the help of community scientists, we can hopefully rediscover Franklin’s bumble bee, and better understand how to conserve all of our region’s most vulnerable bumble bees.”

 

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Read the Franklin’s bumble bee petition.

Read about Robbin Thorp’s legacy.

Read about the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas.

ABOUT THE XERCES SOCIETY FOR INVERTEBRATE CONSERVATION

The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects the natural world by conserving invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is a trusted source for science-based information and advice. We collaborate with people and institutions at all levels and our work to protect pollinators encompasses all landscapes. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, botany and conservation biology with a single passion: protecting the life that sustains us. To learn more about our work, please visit www.xerces.org or follow us @xercessociety on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Arriving in Stores: Bee Better Certified Blueberries

Bee Better Certified has grown significantly since its launch during Pollinator Week 2017. Since then, we have certified 9 farms—and now, in summer 2019, we have reached another milestone: the first product licensed to display the Bee Better Certified seal is now arriving in stores.

A blueberry carton with the Bee Better Certified seal is pictured

California Giant’s Bee Better Certified organic blueberries are the first product licensed to display the Bee Better Certified seal and are now arriving in stores. (Photo: California Giant Berry Farms)

In partnership with AC Foods and Oregon Tilth, we’re pleased to announce the arrival of California Giant brand Bee Better Certified organic blueberries. Sourced from farms near Independence, Oregon and arriving soon at a variety of grocery stores, these berries represent tremendous dedication and conservation ethic by the farms that produced them. To bring these berries to market, AC Foods restored many acres of high-quality native plant habitat and adopted management practices to reduce pesticides and benefit pollinators. (See the full Bee Better Certified standards here.)

Collectively, farmers, food companies, and consumers can re-shape agriculture in a way that will help ensure the survival of pollinators and other wildlife. Purchasing food with the Bee Better label supports the companies that are leading the way on pollinator conservation, and empowers us to continue growing this one-of-a-kind, science-based certification program.

Planting at AC Foods

AC Foods continues to establish pollinator habitat at additional farms, including this pollinator hedgerow being installed in California. (Photo: Xerces Society / Kitty Bolte)

This is also a moment to reflect on the hard work of the Xerces Society, the Bee Better Advisory Board, and Oregon Tilth in this collaborative effort—and to thank the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for the early funding that made this possible. After taking a brief pause to appreciate this achievement, we are getting back to work, continuing our efforts to make farms better for bees.

Thank you for your support; you have all helped us reach another milestone on this journey!

Written by Cameron Newell, Bee Better Certified Coordinator and Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Specialist.

Additional Resources

For updates on the program or information on what it takes to get certified, please visit the Bee Better Certified website.

Follow Bee Better Certified on social media! We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program.

Click here to donate!

Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.

 

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