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Official Survey Confirms Blue Butterfly at Ballona Dunes

The El Segundo Blue Butterfly is officially listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The El Segundo Blue Butterfly is officially listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

A recent official survey confirmed the rare and endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly is living and reproducing at the Ballona Dunes in habitat restored by Friends of Ballona Wetlands’ community restoration efforts.  Over nearly two decades, Friends’ volunteers managed to clear invasive weeds from about 13 acres, enabling native buckwheat - the life source for the butterfly - to expand into the weeded dune areas.   The Dunes will not be affected by any of the plans presently being analyzed by the state for the larger Ballona Wetlands restoration project.

Endangered species surveys may only be performed by a qualified biologist lawfully permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the surveys must follow a strict, scientifically defensible protocol that is specific to each species.  While amateur observations, photographs or other anecdotal claims about endangered species and their habitat may prompt protocol surveys, they are not recognized as scientifically valid and may not be used for regulatory purposes in the United States of America.  The recent surveys were conducted by Dr. Irena Mendez, a professional biologist certified and permitted by the USFWS to conduct protocol surveys for the El Segundo Blue butterfly and employed by the environmental consulting firm, Psomas. 

Adult Blues consume coast buckwheat pollen and nectar, then mate and lay eggs on the flowers. Eggs hatch within 3 to 5 days, and the caterpillars hide within flower heads, feeding mostly on the buckwheat seeds. As the caterpillars change to pupas (remember that from science class?) individuals fall to the ground and remain buried either underground or in the leaf litter at the base of the buckwheat plant until they emerge as adult butterflies.  What a trip! 

According to her report [1], Dr. Mendez performed the protocol survey between June 27 and August 27, 2013 on a weekly basis during the butterfly flight season and proposes recommendations in support of the Friends’ on-going habitat restoration efforts.   During this period a total of 199 butterflies were observed.   During the survey period the numbers of adult male and female Blues observed ranged from 0 to 65 on any given survey date. Adults were estimated to emerge the week of June 16 and peak the week of July 7. By August 27 no Blue butterflies were observed.  No incidental take (accidental mortality of butterflies or their eggs or larvae by humans) occurred during the surveys. 

Dr. Mendez wrote, “great strides have been made in restoring the dunes portion of the [Ecological] Reserve. Plant community mapping conducted in 1990 revealed that most of the area was comprised of iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) and naturalized stands of non-native trees such as myoporum (Myoporum laetum). Today the site largely contains native coastal dune species and riparian thickets that intergrade with the marsh vegetation. Habitat restoration efforts are an on-going project for the organization, as naturalized stands of non-native trees and pockets of iceplant and other nonnative species still exist and will require removal thus making way for additional native plantings. In addition, due to the urban setting of the site with its ample sources of landscape and weedy vegetation readily adapted to the site, the organization will need to focus future efforts on resource management that will undoubtedly include a small but persistent population of El Segundo Blue butterflies. The educational opportunities for the site will be both challenging and inspiring.” 

In other words, the Friends’ ongoing restoration and education programs will need to tiptoe around the Blues so as not to disturb their life cycle while continuing to improve their habitat!  What a great result of the hard work of many volunteers! The surrounding community could greatly help by respecting the boundaries of the Ecological Reserve and not let their dogs and cats run loose in this sensitive habitat.  Let’s all work together to make sure the wildlife continue to thrive. 

Enjoy your Ballona Wetlands! 

www.ballonafriends.org 

1.  Irena Mendez, Ph.D.    Results of 2013 Presence/Absence Surveys for El Segundo Blue Butterfly at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Playa Del Rey, Los Angeles County, CA.  November 21, 2013.   USFWS Recovery Permit TE218630

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