In an effort to teach valley hikers about the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly, the U.S. Forest Service almost built an informational kiosk directly on top of a portion of the rare insect’s remaining habitat.
Friends of Nevada Wilderness and the Forest Service planned to place the kiosk near the start of the Bonanza and Bristlecone trails today in celebration of National Trails Day, but the event was canceled abruptly after a Forest Service botanist surveyed the designated location Thursday and deemed the area vital to the butterfly.
A variation of Astragalus calycosus, a purple-flowering larval host plant that the blue butterfly depends on for reproduction, was growing right where the kiosk was going to be built, Friends of Nevada Wilderness spokesman Jose Witt said.
The kiosk’s installation was postponed until the Forest Service can designate a new location, Shelp said.
The Forest Service also canceled today’s National Trails Day event because the bulk of the planned volunteer work was meant for installing the kiosk. Since a handful of paid staffers still will work on trail restoration today regardless of the kiosk’s postponement, there was no longer a large need for trail restoration volunteers.
“It doesn’t just have to just be about work,” Shelp said. “They can always come up and hike. It was kind of unexpected, but it happens and you just have to regroup.”
The U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service declared the tiny Mount Charleston blue butterfly an endangered species in September.
The butterfly’s wingspan can reach about one inch in length. While females are brown with a blue overlay, males are typically a dull iridescent blue throughout. Black and brown spots blotch the underneath of both males’ and females’ wings.
Decades ago, the rare butterfly’s habitat was nestled in lower Kyle Canyon, but those population areas were lost to development, road salts and the introduction of weed species, according to Spring Mountains butterfly expert Bruce Boyd.
Boyd said the blue butterfly’s remaining habitat once included the upper ridge of Kyle Canyon, where the Carpenter 1 fire ripped through last year. How much blue butterfly habitat might have been lost in the fire is unknown, as the Fish &Wildlife Service has not yet surveyed the area, agency spokesman Dan Balduini said.
Aerial photos of the burned region show open areas of land that were unaffected. Because the blue butterfly typically inhabits open areas that are not heavily forested, parts of the population might have survived, but it is too early to tell. Heat and smoke from the fire could have taken a toll even outside burned areas. “You don’t have to have fire in your oven in order to cook a roast,” Boyd said.
Blue butterfly population surveys in upper Kyle Canyon are expected to start later this summer, Balduini said.
The butterfly’s only other known habitat is in Lee Canyon, Boyd said, and a portion of it was lost over the years to recreation and campground development.
“Some of the areas that we believe supported the butterfly and should’ve supported the butterfly in upper Lee Canyon — because of the physical features of the sites and the presence of larval plants — are in and around developed campgrounds,” he explained.
Over time, foot traffic from campers damaged the plants the insects depend on, and feral horses in the area also are to blame, Boyd said.
“It’s probably really minor,” he said of the damage that could have been done by constructing the informational kiosk about the butterfly, “but each little piece of this habitat loss over decades now has contributed to the blue butterfly’s decline. I’m glad they sent someone out at first to intervene and give it a look before they started digging.”
Contact Rachel Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290. Find her on Twitter: @rachelacrosby.