One of the most beautiful creatures on earth is also among the most endangered, but SCA intern Lindsey Phillips is helping The Nature Conservancy protect and grow an original Karner blue colony at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve in the Albany Pine Bush region of New York
One of the most beautiful creatures on earth is also among the most endangered.
The Karner blue butterfly population has declined 99% over the past century. Its grassy range, which once stretched from the Midwest to New England, has been reduced by development and fire suppression and today the butterflies remain in only a few vicinities.
One of those areas is the Albany Pine Bush region of New York, where SCA intern Lindsey Phillips is helping The Nature Conservancy protect and grow an original Karner blue colony at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve.
“I’ve always been interested in endangered species,” states Lindsey, an Auburn University junior who works part-time at a raptor rehabilitation center. “And the Karner blue butterfly offered an alternative to the game species that are so popular at home.”
Every day, Lindsey patrols miles and miles of predetermined transects in up to eight local sites. With a net in one hand, she gently sweeps the vegetation, stirring the butterflies to flight. In the other hand, Lindsey holds a banded aluminum pole that helps her mark the precise location of each butterfly sighting, which she captures in a voice recorder. Later, she enters the information into a database that helps state and federal authorities determine the impact of ongoing recovery programs.
Lindsey insists her daily routine never gets old. “I’m at peace in the outdoors,” she says, adding she’s encountered numerous other species walking her beat, from napping fawns to Black Racer snakes.
For all of its dazzling beauty, Lindsey notes the Karner blue is modest in other ways. It has a wing span of only an inch and its life span averages just four days. “People ask me, ‘what’s the point of protecting them?’ and I get real defensive,” she states. “These butterflies were put here for a reason and it’s not our place to wipe them out.”
It’s easy to understand how this small insect made such a big impression on Lindsey when she relates a story from her first day on the job. “I drove up from Alabama with my parents,” she says, “and when they left, I felt so alone. I sat down and started wondering if I’d made the right decision, and suddenly ten or more Karner blue butterflies started swarming around my feet.
“They were like some kind of welcoming party. That’s when I said ‘I’m good. I know I can do this.’”