Current status / Research efforts
As of May 4th, 2020, the Island Marble became officially listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of its rarity and fragility. Efforts to obtain endangered species status for this butterfly had been pursued by several organizations over the course of many years. In 2016, US Fish & Wildlife Service’s first attempt at listing the butterfly under the ESA took place, and again in 2018, USFWS published a proposed rule to list the Island Marble as endangered in the Federal Register (83 FR 15900). The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife also listed the Island Marble as a State Candidate species for possible listing as endangered, threatened, or sensitive. Federal listing comes with a designation of critical habitat needs, a coordinated recovery plan, and federal assistance in achieving these goals. The one good thing about becoming listed as an endangered species means that it can lead to more federal funding for the butterfly’s protection and range expansion.
Many partners work together to conserve and protect Island Marble butterflies, including US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources, San Juan County Land Bank, the San Juan Preservation Trust, The National Park Service, The Xerces Society, Center for Biological Diversity, and a host of private landowners, schools, and concerned citizens.
Before the spring of 2019 and several years prior, the only place in the world where the Island Marble Butterfly was known to still exist, was in an isolated area on the seaside prairie at American Camp (managed by the National Park Service).
The range of this butterfly species officially expanded beyond American Camp, in May of 2019, when a lone female arrived and laid 27 eggs in a Suitable Habitat Patch on Frazer Homestead Preserve, read more about this butterfly’s harrowing journey here.
SJPT has received grants from USFWS to create habitat in “safe” areas on three locations on San Juan Island. These safe zones, or Suitable Habitat Patches (SHPs), will be protected from deer browse, mowing, trampling, and insecticides year-round, and are located on lands owned by SJPT and the San Juan County Land Bank. The primary goal of creating these patches is to secure areas where the butterfly can live out its entire life cycle, free from disturbance. Constructed in 2015, these habitat patches are continually maintained and cultivated by SJPT staff with help from the San Juan Island Youth Conservation Corps (SJICC), Washington Conservation Crops (WCC), and SJPT volunteers.
The SHPs are planted with native nectar and host plants that will benefit the butterfly (and other pollinators as well). These SHPs are experimental, though based on methodology from the (successful) American Camp design. All SHPs are closely monitored in an effort to establish the best management practices for plant/butterfly production.
Photos taken in various SHPs— featuring Kathleen Foley Lewis, SJICC, and SJPT volunteer | Staff archive