MANLIUS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan wildlife conservationists are using fire to help protect a federally endangered butterfly living in Allegan County.
Employees of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources spent hours Friday and Saturday burning through about 122 acres of brush near 126th Avenue and 49th Street in Manlius Township, across the street from the Allegan Pine Plains Natural Area.
MDNR Wildlife Technician Maria Albright said the fire is one step in expanding the savannah habitat the endangered Karner blue butterfly needs. The MDNR says fire encourages the growth of lupine, which is the only plant the Karner blue butterfly will feed on.
Karner blue butterflies go through two life cycles each year. The butterfly overwinters in an egg stage, with the snow protecting its eggs from drying out. The eggs hatch in the spring when the caterpillars can feed on wild lupines. The caterpillars transform into butterflies, mate and lay eggs which hatch in early summer and become butterflies in late July to early August.
Albright acknowledged some of the eggs laid for next spring may have been destroyed in the land-clearing effort. She said that’s why the MDNR never burns more than one-third of the Karner blue butterfly’s habitat.
The Allegan area is home to between 3,000 and 3,500 acres of Karner blue butterfly habitat. Albright said the burn happened on a portion of the 3,000 to 4,000 additional acres they’re trying to turn into prime living area for the insect.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says the Karner blue butterfly joined the endangered species list in 1992 because of land development and a lack of wildfires and grazing to curb the spread of forests and encourage lupine growth.
Albright says while a rainy spring can spell disaster for the endangered butterfly, causing egg mold, this year’s butterfly population appears to be about average.