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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Plan Saves Lange's Metalmark Butterfly at Antioch Dunes


Tiny Antioch butterfly is to gain help from voluntary partnership.

A proposed agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is expected to provide important habitat benefits for a tiny butterfly that has been flittering on the brink of extinction in eastern Contra Costa County.

Termed a Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA), the voluntary pact between the federal government and the utility will enable PG&E to improve native habitat on its property to help the Lange's metalmark butterfly. The agreement will cover two 6-acre parcels of mostly sandy dunes owned by PG&E. The two parcels lie on either side of the 14-acre Sardis Unit of the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.

Under the draft SHA, PG&E is expected to actively manage non-native vegetation (including winter vetch, rip gut brome, yellow star thistle) on the sandy southern bank of the San Joaquin River. The careful removal of non-native plants will help the butterfly's primary food plant (naked stemmed buckwheat) to grow, increasing opportunities for the butterfly population to expand.

The agreement will give PG&E protection from violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as it restores habitat for the butterfly. Public comments on the draft SHA can be submitted through Jan. 11, 2010 to: Rick Kuyper, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825 or by fax to 916-414-6713.

The Lange's metalmark is a reddish-orange butterfly with only a 1.5-inch wingspan. Its last known home is the refuge, which was established in 1980 specifically to protect the butterfly and two related rare plants, the Antioch Dunes evening primrose and Contra Costa wallflower. All three are listed as endangered under the ESA.

In the last three years the Service, aided by butterfly experts and volunteers, has energetically been helping the species recover. A captive breeding program at Moorpark College in Southern California has returned dozens of Lange's to the site. Vegetation management has improved food conditions for the butterfly.

The Lange's metalmark is extremely limited in its feeding patterns, eating only naked stemmed buckwheat. That food plant increasingly has been crowded out by non-native plants, contributing to severe declines in Lange's numbers. Refuge staff and volunteers have been removing the invasive plants, helping the Lange's to spread on the small refuge.

When the agreement is implemented, PG&E will manage vegetation on its adjacent 12 acres to control invasive plants and allow more naked stemmed buckwheat to grow. That should give the existing Lange's population more areas in which to lay their eggs and expand their population.

The Antioch Dunes refuge was established specifically to help the species in 1992. Located on 55 acres of sand dunes along the San Joaquin River, the refuge lies along a deepwater channel in an area that has mostly been developed for heavy industry. Extending the favorable habitat for the Lange's to PG&E's parcels should be a big benefit for a species without anywhere else to live.

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