“Treat it like an insect, not a grizzly bear” – Takeaways from a Checkerspot Workshop in California

“I can’t stop thinking about my landscape-scale view of the world and how it has been forever modified by the hilltop landscapes of the Bay and Quino checkerspots” (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Mary Linders, speaking about Taylor’s checkerspot recovery and management). In late January, thirty people traveled from as far as San Diego and Vancouver Island to gather in San Jose and talk about one thing and one thing only – Edith’s checkerspot butterfly(Euphydryas editha).  If you’re familiar with the work CNLM and partners do in the South Sound, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, a subspecies, (pictured at right) is a well-known species. When Taylor’s checkerspot was listed as Endangered in October 2013, it joined two other listed Editha checkerspot subspecies – the Bay and Quino checkerspots.

CNLM partnered with Creekside ScienceWashington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Xerces Society to plan a three day workshop that brought together the three conservation communities with a goal to strengthen collective recovery efforts by providing a forum for information sharing and catalyzing priority actions between practitioners working on recovery of each sub-species. As the workshop got underway there were hugs from long ago colleagues and first-time meetings of people who had conversed over phone and email for years.

Over the course of twenty-two presentations spread across six topics, members of each group presented specific examples of their work, challenges and future plans for checkerspot conservation. Eric Porter from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Carlsbad, CA found it helpful to learn the history and development of partnerships and conservation strategies from other regions and has been sharing his observations with his team.  One of the most common takeaways attendees noted was the evidence of the overwhelming need for active management, even in the face of difficulties due to small population sizes, fragmentation, and regulatory and institutional structures. A lot of discussion about the level of management, such as prescribed fire, mowing, and herbicide use, that can and should be utilized stemmed from the statement “Treat it like an insect, not a grizzly bear”, noting the cognitive dissonance often felt by regulatory bodies and biologists alike about the need to balance survival of individuals against population maintenance and the long term value of improved habitat.

Occurring in the Bay area and Southern California, the Bay and Quino (respectively) share a lot in common with Taylor’s – they have pretty much the same life history, occur in grasslands and rocky outcrops with nutrient poor soil, and are threatened by land conversion and habitat degradation, but the way each subspecies has adapted to the different environments and on-the-ground realities have led the butterflies, and the people that are working to protect and restore these populations, down different paths.  With so many commonalities playing out in different situations, it was remarkable to bring this wide-ranging group of knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic people together in one place to learn from one another. Mary Linders of WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife said that “Participation in this and similar meetings nationwide has demonstrated the value of face-to-face meetings and a multi-disciplinary approach to promote large-scale conservation while also considering the complexity and nuance of the local biological, physical and socio-political landscapes.” Stu Weiss, of Creekside Science emphasized that the “power of the networking – to see how other people are doing things in terms of practical conservation, is very critical. Each place has its own history and culture and somehow we have to adapt to the need of the butterfly out there.”

The positive impact of this workshop is already being felt and the group has more planned – sharing best practices, an email list, and a white paper generated from the workshop to name a few. Presentations will be made available and tidbits of information are percolating through the community, but tangible outcomes are expected – and eagerly anticipated – from this workshop. The Quino folks look forward to utilizing the excitement from the workshop to rally their colleagues to see a long-hoped-for Quino Working Group come to fruition this year. Similar to the Taylor’s checkerspot Working Group, the group will allow biologists, land managers and policy makers to talk more frequently and work together more often.  Those involved in the captive rearing and reintroduction work in the South Puget Sound exchanged information with the San Diego Zoo to support their efforts to captive rear Quino for potential future reintroductions. From the habitat management perspective, a white paper will summarize strategies for active habitat management in occupied areas and highlight a collection of case studies.

Perhaps most importantly, this workshop allowed everyone to take a step back and assess their own work, the work of others, and ways we can all improve. Substantial time set aside for discussion allowed the group to give serious consideration to ideas. It was non-stop checkerspot butterfly talk for 36 hours straight, and rather than see the excitement wane, it grew as people challenged ideas, thoughtfully discussed pros and cons of different approaches and learned of more and more ways their work could be improved. Stu Weiss summed it up best when he said that being able to focus on just checkerspots for a few days with such an interesting smart committed group of people was “paradise.”


Click here to read the full post on the South Sound Prairies website.