PORTLAND, Ore. – The Fender’s blue butterfly, once thought to be extinct, is fluttering toward recovery under the Endangered Species Act. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified Fender’s blue butterfly from endangered to threatened and finalized a special rule that makes it easier for landowners to manage for this species.
“This is a tremendous success story – to go from nearly extinct to on the road to recovery,” said Craig Rowland, acting state supervisor for the Service’s Oregon office. “We’ve only reached this point of being able to downlist because of successful partnerships with landowners, conservation agencies, businesses, other agencies, and the work of our national wildlife refuges to conserve Fender’s butterfly. This is yet another species that is making incredible strides in Oregon.”
Fender’s blue butterfly was believed to be extinct in 1937 but was rediscovered in 1989. Its habitat in the Willamette Valley had been largely altered by development and decades of fire suppression. A key turning point for this species was when scientists learned that mowing and prescribed fire could be used to help the butterfly.
Fender’s blue butterfly now inhabits twice the acreage it did when listed as endangered in 2000 and, remarkably, the number of occupied sites has quadrupled. These butterflies can be found flying from mid-April through June in Benton, Lane, Linn, Polk, Washington, and Yamhill counties in Oregon. Conservation of this butterfly is also helping other prairie-dependent species like Kincaid’s lupine and Willamette daisy.
Private landowners are playing a key role in this butterfly’s comeback, demonstrating we can all do something to help endangered species. Seventeen landowners enrolled in Safe Harbor Agreements to help Fender’s and other prairie species, and another dozen more agreements are in the works. Many of these landowners are working with our Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to improve and maintain prairie habitat on their private lands. This partnership brings collective resources to the table while providing landowners with management flexibility and regulatory certainty. The private lands conservation efforts combined with those on national wildlife refuges are essential for the butterfly’s recovery.
Partnerships are paramount for putting any species on the path to recovery. In this case, some of the key partners and players that are making a huge difference for this butterfly include private landowners, Van Duzer Vineyards, Institute for Applied Ecology, Greenbelt Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Washington State University, Benton, Washington, and Yamhill Counties, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Service’s Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.
The finalized special 4(d) rule under the ESA covers activities that facilitate conserving and managing the butterfly’s habitat by creating, restoring, or enhancing native upland prairie or oak savannah. Specific activities include the planting of native vegetation, mowing and removal of invasive, nonnative plant species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Endangered Species Act in 2023. The ESA provides a critical safety net for fish, wildlife, and plants and has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species, as well as promoted the recovery of many others, and conserved the habitats upon which they depend. The ESA has been highly effective and credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction.
The reclassification will be effective on February 13, 2023. Find out more about this butterfly at https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/6659