More than 20 years of habitat restoration and breeding programs have helped the endangered Karner blue butterfly make a comeback in the pine barrens of upstate New York where it was discovered by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov decades ago. "This project has been unbelievably rewarding," said Neil Gifford, conservation director for the 3,200-acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve. "Getting to see an animal that was on the brink of extinction locally, now have a robust and healthy population, is just incredible." The silvery blue, postage stamp-sized butterfly that was among the first species on the federal endangered list in 1973 is also making a comeback in parts of Ohio and New Hampshire where it was thought to have been wiped out before 2000. Populations have persisted in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The outlook is less sunny in some other parts of the butterfly's former range from Minnesota to New England. At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, extensive work to restore the butterfly's sandy, savannah-like habitat has come to naught. "The population over the last 15 years has declined to the point where we're pretty concerned that it's been lost from this area," says a USGS biologist. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Karner blue has declined by 99% over the past 100 years, with 90% of the decline occurring in the last 15. Scientists have partnered with New Hampshire officials in a captive breeding program since 2001. New York sends adult Karner blues to New Hampshire each spring, and New Hampshire returns some of the pupating larvae to Albany to be released.