Habitat Help for the Karner Blue Butterfly

When people think about the NWTF’s habitat work, projects mainly benefitting wild turkeys come to mind. But, much of that work also benefits nongame species. 

Ryan Boyer, an NWTF regional biologist living and working in Michigan, currently oversees such a project. It’s a partnership between the NWTF and the USDA Forest Service on the Huron-Manistee National Forest in Michigan. The work involves habitat restoration designed to help the federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly in the Forest’s Baldwin District.

“We’re working to restore oak savanna habitats that have been overgrown,” Boyer said. “There is a lot of old-growth oak and white pine in these areas. We selectively remove some of these trees to open up areas and create a transitional oak savanna habitat that goes from grassland habitat to forested habitat.” 

A lack of wildfire going back several generations allowed tree species to take hold and, in many cases, crowd out native grasses and wildflowers. Restoring oak savannas will help myriad species beyond the Karner blue butterfly. These include monarch butterflies and upland game birds, such as ruffed grouse, woodcock and turkeys. A primary focus, Boyer explained, is to regenerate wild lupine, a flower Karner blue butterflies need to meet lifecycle needs. 

These projects are creatively funded via a stewardship agreement between the NWTF and the Manistee National Forest. As timber is removed and sold from the target areas, the NWTF uses the revenue to fund habitat projects. Other partners include Whitetails Unlimited, Michigan Nature Association and Wolverine Power.

Boyer said upland game quickly moves in to restored oak savannas to take advantage of the grasslands. 

“Wildflowers and many warm-season grasses flourish when a project is complete,” he said. “All pollinators benefit, as well as many other insect species. These attract upland game birds that raise their young in these areas, because of the protein-rich insects and cover present there.” 

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Michigan