Thursday, August 18, 2011

Volunteers survey butterflies at Mount Rainier and North Cascades

One of the biggest challenges faced by natural resource managers is knowing what resources, exactly, they have to manage. How can you know, for example, whether your amphibian species are in decline, as they are so many places, unless you first find out which ones you have and then monitor their populations over time? Mount Rainier's Citizen Science program was created a few years ago to address this issue with the help of volunteers, and now a similar program is beginning to monitor butterflies.

Butterflies are a great species to study because they come in so many varieties, each focused on a particular niche in the ecosystem for feeding and reproducing. Jim Burnett explains on the National Parks Traveler website: "Subalpine meadows are projected to shrink dramatically due to the effects of climate change, but the rate and magnitude of this change are unknown. Butterflies make ideal indicator species because they are particularly sensitive to climatic changes, and are relatively easy to identify in the field by scientists and volunteers alike." They also capture the imagination as they flutter colorfully among the summer flowers.

Now, volunteers will conduct regular survey transects at four sites in Mount Rainier National Park, along with sites at North Cascades National Park and four other locations in the Cascade range, to determine which varieties of butterfly make these mountains their home, and whether each is increasing or decreasing in numbers. Like the amphibian surveys, it's a critical but time-intensive project that will take many years of dedicated study to complete, and one that would be impossible without the dedicated assistance of volunteers.

The "Cascades Butterfly Project" will engage volunteers to inventory butterflies and upload photos and locations onto the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. The volunteers will also note how many of each species of butterfly they see, and which flowers are blooming.
Training of volunteers took place on July 23 at Sauk Mountain and on August 13 at Mount Rainier, though the survey transect at Paradise was still under snow. Other areas included in the study include the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, Skagit Valley Provincial Park, and Manning Provincial Park.

Survey locations at Mount Rainier include Mazama Ridge, Naches Peak, Berkely Park, and Spray Park. Volunteers at North Cascades National Park will survey Maple and Easy Pass, and in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Yellow Aster Butte and Skyline Divide.

The National Park component of the butterfly survey project involves Wildlife Biologists Mason Reid, at Mount Rainier, and Bob Kuntz, at North Cacades, along with Botanists Lou Whiteaker and Mignonne Bivin. The monitoring program was developed by Dr. John McLaughlin, of Western Washington University, with help from teams of high school students from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for two years of field testing. The program is modeled after a similar program in the Rocky Mountains, which has been monitoring butterflies for 14 years now and has contributed to a significant increase in the number of documented species in Rocky Mountain National Park. A preliminary survey of butterflies at Mount Rainier was completed in 2008 by Dr. Dana Garrigan of Carthage College, including a checklist of 65 species.
Volunteers are still being recruited for this long-term project. To join the Cascades Butterfly Project, contact Jeff Anderson, North Cascades Institute Science Coordinator, at or 206-526-2574. Download the project's Resource Brief here. You can also check out the Cascades Butterfly Project Group on Yahoo.

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