Sunday, April 4, 2010

What Can One Person Do to Conserve Butterflies? by Elane Nuehring

Bartram's Scrub-Hairstreak -- imperiled butterfly of pine rocklands
Photo by Michelle Wisniewski

Members of the North American Butterfly Association and its local chapters, such as our Miami Blue Chapter, are sometimes hesitant to "do conservation work." Some reasons include not being sure they know the issues, not being comfortable with adversarial and political situations, and simply preferring to spend their "butterfly time" on learning about and enjoying butterflies in the wild and at home in the garden. If you see yourself in the foregoing description, then you might be surprised to know that you are already a conservation activist, by simply belonging to environmental organizations such as NABA, the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and hosts of others. Your membership and your dues are a vital resource in NABA's conservation work on behalf of butterflies and their habitats.

But, there's more you can do...and it should feel like fun, not stress. For example, NABA chapters, ours included, are involved in a number of partnerships with butterfly researchers and land managers with parks and natural areas. Members contribute time to butterfly surveys and butterfly observation, helping to advance knowledge that can protect butterflies and their habitats. Our Miami Blue Chapter is about to receive training and interesting assignments monitoring Miami Blue butterflies about to be released in a local park, to determine what factors play a part in successful re-establishment of endangered species. This is butterfly watching (yes, structured) in a beautiful place, but it is also a vital contribution to conservation knowledge. This year, our chapter is also doing monthly surveys of three Miami-Dade County pinelands about the presence (or absence) of certain imperiled butterflies of the pinelands -- for purposes of informing land management strategies that can enhance habitat for certain species. If you like to go butterflying in the outdoors, this kind of conservation work could be for you!

If you are someone who can dash off a clear, short letter (or email, although the old fashioned letter is thought to be most effective) if you have the necessary information easily available, consider this mode of conservation work. Letters aimed to influence pro-conservation political or administrative decisions do not have to be, and should not be, long and detailed; a statement of your opinion or preference is what counts and a detailed rationale will largely go unread. If you are willing to write an occasional letter to a legislator or agency administrator, please email us at We will get you on our list of correspondents and occasionally supply you with information sufficient to let you craft a brief letter.

Public education is another vital way to contribute to butterfly conservation. If you are someone who likes to give informal talks to community groups, including youth groups, garden clubs, and the like, our chapter can provide you with existing materials and help you hone one or more programs suitable for the audience or audiences for whom you would like to present. We can accompany you on your first one or two ventures, as your support system. This is a way to meet a lot of people and raise a lot of awareness about butterflies and the threats to their habitats. Since everyone loves butterflies, you are certain to have enthusiastic, curious participants. Let us know if this is a direction that interests you by emailing us at

Then there is the home butterfly garden! By providing butterfly plants, you return a small piece of habitat to butterflies. If you encourage your neighbors, together you may be able to develop what urban horticulturists call "wildlife corridors" -- that is, linked pieces of productive habitat enabling small wildlife, such as butterflies and birds, to move from place to place, yard to yard, block to block, supplied with food and cover.

There are many ways to contribute to butterfly conservation, without being a forceful debater, an environmental litigator, or a political lobbyist. Of course, if you have these skills and/or credentials, and wish to offer them to butterfly conservation work, we want to hear from you NOW! But we want to persuade you that there are other avenues to conservation outcomes, and we invite you to explore these avenues with us.

Share your thoughts on how to help butterflies persist in both our communities and our wild areas and what individuals can do.

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