Eau Claire County: If you build a habitat, they will come

Eau Claire County NRCS Staff
Female Karner Blue Butterfly

EAU CLAIRE COUNTY - In 2008, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Altoona Service Center had the opportunity to partner with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), and West Wisconsin Land Trust in submitting a Conservation Reserve Program-State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (CRP-SAFE) proposal to provide 2,500 acres of enhanced habitat for the Karner blue butterfly (KBB) in Eau Claire and Jackson counties.

The Karner blue butterfly is a federally listed endangered species present in small patches across central and north western Wisconsin. The SAFE practice CP-38E (grass) was used for contracts 10 ‒ 15 years in length. Many benefits come from the CRP-SAFE KBB program.

Not only will it expand the Karner blue butterfly habitat and population, but it also reduces soil loss, improves water quality and enhances habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife. NRCS is the lead agency in providing technical assistance to landowners who enroll land into CRP-SAFE KBB. 

Pictured are (from left) Jennifer Roetter (Altoona NRCS District Conservationist), Andy Bourget (retired FSA County Executive Director (CED)), Jeff Myers (current FSA CED) and Paula Kleintjes Neff, PhD and Professor of Entomology and Conservation Biology at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.

Program successes

Fast forward to 2016, all 2,500 acres have been contracted and Eau Claire County has 2,095 acres for a total of 91 landowner contracts. All participating landowners are within the historical range of the KBB. At least 11 are located within the range that Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) classifies as having “high potential” for KBB recovery.

KBB typically disperses less than 1 mile from existing populations. The 2,095 acres of privately owned land have been planted with an approved seed mix containing six native grass species and 11 wildflower species. The main species in the mix is Wild Lupine (Lupinus Perennis); it is the larval host plant for the KBB.  

University of Wisconsin‒Eau Claire (UW‒EC) Biology Dept. conducted extensive monitoring from 2009 ‒ 2015 of both CRP-SAFE sites, and native grassland sites where the KBB is already present. Monitoring was for vegetation, butterflies, and Bumblebees and UW‒EC observed 39 different species of butterflies while monitoring 10 sites two to three times throughout the season.

One of the butterflies observed in 2015 on a CRP-SAFE site was the Karner blue butterfly, which means NRCS’s technical advice for management was successful in attracting the KBB.  

The Altoona NRCS Service Center received an email in July from the USDA’s Office of Communications, Director, Garth Clark. He heard how successful the CRP-SAFE KBB was after reading Paula Kleintjes Neff's, UW‒EC Professor of Entomology and Conservation Biology, research report. On July 21, 2016, Garth Clark visited Eau Claire County to produce a video for national use to promote the CRP-SAFE programs.

A landowner is being interviewed on-site.

“It was a great experience organizing the day and making a video out in the field, three landowners were interviewed along with Andy Bourget, retired Eau Claire County FSA CED, and UW‒EC’s Paula Kleintjes Neff,” said Jennifer Roetter. "We interviewed one of the landowners at the CRP field with known KBB. They were also able to get good action shots of the KBB utilizing the wild lupine, its host plant. One of the landowner’s interviewed was also successful in finding KBB on his site as well after seeing them in person on interview day. FSA, NRCS and Paula are ecstatic there are now two known sites with KBB colonization happening on CRP-SAFE fields."