CNN

Fender’s blue butterfly has moved away from the brink of extinction.

The species, once so rare it was thought to be extinct, is no longer considered endangered, according to a Jan. 11 press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The organization has reclassified the species from “endangered” to “threatened” and has also finalized a rule to make it easier for landowners to manage the species.

“This is a tremendous achievement – moving from near extinction to recovery,” Craig Rowland, acting state supervisor for the service’s Oregon office, said in the statement. “We have only reached this point of being able to decommission through successful partnerships with landowners, conservation agencies, businesses, other agencies and the work of our National Wildlife Refuges to conserve the Fender butterfly.

“This is yet another species that is making incredible progress in Oregon,” he added.

The reclassification will take effect on February 13, according to the press release.

Fender’s blue butterfly is found only in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a 150-mile-long region in the state that stretches from Portland to Eugene – said the service. The species was thought to be extinct in 1937 but was later rediscovered in 1989. Thanks to local conservation efforts, the butterfly population has fallen from around 3,391 insects in 2000 to 13,700 in 2018, according to an assessment of Fish and Wildlife Service species.

For Sujud Ottman, a biology and urban agriculture professor at Evanston Township High School in Illinois and an avid butterfly advocate, the species’ recovery is a “sign of hope” for other endangered species.

Ottman told CNN that Fender’s blue butterfly is unique because it prefers to lay its eggs on a host plant, Kincaid’s lupine. This makes the survival of the butterfly and that of the plant deeply intertwined. Kincaid’s lupine is also classified as “threatened” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Insects are also interesting because of their life cycle, Ottman added. Fender caterpillars go into a kind of delayed development called diapause during the winter before emerging as fully formed moths. Adults only live about ten days during which they must find a mate and reproduce.

Ottman said habitat loss and human prevention of natural forest fires are the primary threats to Fender’s blue butterfly. Wildfires are necessary to prevent the grassland habitat that butterflies depend on from turning into forests.

Conservation efforts included the planting of thousands of Kincaid Lupines for butterflies to lay their eggs as well as prescribed fires to maintain the crucial grassland environment.

The reclassification of the species is “wonderful news,” Ottman added. “It’s super inspiring to know that a butterfly that was once considered extinct is now removed from the endangered species list.

“It’s really remarkable and it gives me a lot of hope.”

As pollinators, butterflies are a crucial part of our ecosystems, she explained. This is part of why protecting endangered butterflies is so important. “I feel like this story is, well, really empowering and I hope it ignites an inner fire to continue the conservation efforts that they’re doing,” she said.

For Ottman, the recovery of Fender’s blue butterfly may be a sign of hope for other endangered butterfly species, like the iconic monarch butterfly. Monarchs were listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in July 2022.

“My dream is for the Monarch to basically follow in the footsteps of Fender’s blue butterfly and, you know, thrive as well,” she said. “I believe we can do this and we can reverse the damage we have caused.”

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