The beautiful Karner blue butterfly, once considered a sign of summer’s zenith in the Great Lakes region of Canada, can no longer be found here.
It is extirpated, the term biologists use for a species that is extinct in a location where it was once indigenous. As with many threatened species, the cause is habitat loss; in the case of the Karner blue, the loss of the wild lupine that is its main food source and its tallgrass prairie and black oak savannah habitat.
Habitat loss is the number one threat to species globally, and in Canada, 654 species are designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as at-risk, 22 are extirpated, and 15 more are extinct, gone forever.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and its volunteers are working hard to stem and reverse the habitat loss that threatens these species. Each summer, for example, volunteers travel to NCC properties in southeastern Ontario’s Rice Lake Plains to plant wild lupine and other tallgrass species.
Volunteers work alongside Todd Farrell, an NCC conservation biologist. Mr. Farrell has been lucky enough to see the elusive Karner blue, but he had to travel to Ohio in order to do so.
“NCC works in every province to conserve Canada’s most vulnerable landscapes, and the plants and animals they sustain,” says John Lounds, NCC’s president and CEO. “We take an optimistic view and a proactive approach – we believe in our power to benefit future generations.”
Using leading-edge science, NCC targets the best remaining examples of the most threatened habitats, such as B.C.’s coastal Douglas-fir forest zone, of which 45 per cent has been lost; the Great Lakes region, where 72 per cent of wetlands have disappeared; or Atlantic Canada, where 65 per cent of coastal marshes have been either filled or drained. Less than one per cent of Canada’s native tall grass prairies and 25 per cent of mixed grass prairies remain, so NCC also considers these natural places to be high priority for conservation.
“Many people think that Canada is a place with lots of wilderness, lots of space, that the task isn’t urgent, when in fact our significant places and the wildlife that depends on them are at risk,” Mr. Lounds stresses. “That’s why the time to protect our natural places has to be now.”
Conservation takes patience; it requires a long-term view, he adds.
“Our ongoing work in collaboration with Alderville First Nation and Rice Lake Plains partners to restore the wild lupine population on the tallgrass prairie and black oak savannah means that one day, the flutter of the Karner blue butterfly might be a common sight in Canada again,” says Mr. Farrell.
“NCC works in every province to conserve Canada’s most vulnerable landscapes, and the plants and animals they sustain. We take an optimistic view and a proactive approach – we believe in our power to benefit future generations.”
is president and CEO of NCC