City treasures

  • An information kiosk on the Karner blue butterfly at the conservation easement in Concord.

  • A bee lands on a flower at the Karner Blue Conservation Easement in Concord.

  • The Karner Blue Butterfly Conservation Easement is located in Concord’s pine barrens. Hannah sampadian / Monitor staff

  • An information kiosk on the Karner blue butterfly at the conservation easement in Concord.

  • Wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) in shown in Concord. Courtesy of Rebecca Segelhurst

  • A male Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) during the Karner’s first flight this May. Courtesy of Rebecca Segelhurst

  • A female Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) during the Karner’s first flight this May. Courtesy of Rebecca Segelhurst

Monitor staff
Friday, July 07, 2017

New Hampshire is home to the federally endangered and protected Karner blue butterfly. And for a small window of time in early to mid-July, those visiting the Concord Pine Barrens on a hot, sunny day may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the creature’s bright blue fluttering wings.

At this time, when the adult butterflies are in flight, members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department work in the field at the Karner Blue Conservation Easement off Airport Road in efforts to maintain the population.

“Out in the field, we’re trying to minimize the amount of released butterflies from the captive rearing lab,” said Rebecca Segelhurst, a biological aide working on the project.

N.H. Fish and Game’s Nongame Program began restoring the Concord Pine Barrens in 2000, shortly after the species was thought to be extirpated from the Granite State landscape. Releasing of captive-reared Karner blue butterflies into the wild began in 2001. Years of joint efforts between state biologists, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve in New York and local school children brought the project closer to its goal.

“We reached recovery goal of the population of over 3,000 last year, if maintained for three to five years, were there,” said John Kanter, Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program supervisor.

Unique to Granite State

The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) was named the New Hampshire state butterfly in 1992. According to the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan, Karner blue butterflies historically occurred in five sites across the state: Milford, Merrimack, Webster, Manchester and Concord. Of these sites, the Concord pine barrens support the last remaining population in the state. The butterfly once could be found from Maine to Minnesota. Today, its population is limited to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Ontario, Canada and right here in Concord.

Partner project

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began working with N.H. Fish and Game, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation biologists, the New Hampshire Army National Guard and the city of Concord to restore the pine barren habitat and wild lupine and create a breeding program to increase the Karner blue’s population in the state. They collected eggs from New York, the closest population.

In 2000, when Kanter and Fish and Game members found eggs on some lupine and saw none of them had been fertilized, talks of conserving the species became serious.

“That’s when they started importing them from New York,” Kanter said.

State biologists teamed up with the Albany Pine Bush Preserve to provides the first resupply of adult butterflies to the state and help maintain genetic diversity in the Karner blue population. The plan worked.

“Our efforts in our lab became so productive from there,” Kanter said. Eventually, by about 2008, population levels stabilized and New Hampshire officials began captive rearing more larvae in order to give pupae to be released back into the wild in New York.

In addition, “Kids for Karner” was created as a way for Concord elementary school students to learn about the endangered species and fragile N.H. wildlife. Wild lupine plants were raised by students and transplanted to the reserved land on the Heights during field trips in late May. But the program is “taking a rest” as of 2015, due to lack of staff and funding, Kanter said.

Why pine barrens?

The Karner blue butterfly has very particular habitat requirements. Karner blue larvae are obligate feeders of wild lupine, a small flowering plant only found in pine barrens. The problem in New Hampshire is that 90 percent of the state’s pine barrens – plant communities dominated by grasses, shrubs and small to medium pines that grow on dry soils – have been lost because of human activity such as community development, wildfire suppression and forest cultivation.

Habitat management is performed on the Concord Pine Barrens to mimic historic natural disturbance regimes that maintain vegetation. Some techniques used include controlled burning, brush cutting and planting of native vegetation. Controlled burning is performed to reduce leaf litter and duff, reduce non-native vegetative species and promote sunny and sandy openings for native plant and insect species to grow.

The last prescribed burn to be administered at Concord’s 300-acre pine barrens was in fall 2016.

“We usually do one in June, but the weather and low staffing this year kind of limited that,” Segelhurst said. “We’re hoping to pull one off in August.”

Spotting butterflies

Male Karner blues can be distinguished by their deep blue wings, edged by a thin black border with a white outer edge. The female is greyish-brown – especially in the outer portions of the wings – or bluish, with irregular bands of orange crescents inside the narrow black border, also with a white outer edge. The underside of both male and female is grey with a continuous band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings and scattered black spots.

“We’ve seen one male this season,” Segelhurst said. “A wet month of May made everything kind of weak, but I expect to spot a larger number of butterflies in the next coming week.”

The Karner Blue Conservation Easement in Concord can be found by Exit 14 for Loudon Road from Interstate-93. Turn left at Pembroke Road, then turn right at Chenell Drive. Go half mile to the end of street. Park on the street. An information kiosk can be found at the beginning of the trails and all are open to the public. Be sure to stay on the pathways, as the area is actively being restored.

How to help

Recovery efforts for our state butterfly have improved greatly since they began more than a decade ago. But with staff numbers low and weather unpredictable, N.H. Fish and Game will accept help from willing community members.

“We actually are hoping to schedule a volunteer lupine planting sometime this month, if not in August,” Segelhurst said. A June planting typically occurs, but once again staffing and funding limitations prohibited the event.

For more information on the Karner blue butterfly or volunteer opportunities, visit the project’s webpage at wildlife.state.nh.us/nongame/project-kbb.html.