Conservation nursery prepares for Taylor's checkerspot recovery across the Puget Sound region

 The primary recovery efforts for the Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) have been centered in the South Sound Prairies.  Seed production for these efforts is well advanced with hundreds of pounds of checkerspot specific seed produced annually.  However, disjunct populations of the butterfly exist on the Olympic peninsula and in the Willamette Valley. The historic range extended well into the North Puget Sound.  The nursery is gearing up to support habitat creation across this range.


Taylor's checkerspot butterfly on Sea Pink (Plectritis congesta). Photo Credit: Rod GilbertThe conservation nursery produces seed specifically for individual ecoregions, using seed wild collected from within those ecoregions as a foundation.  The Southern Puget Prairies ecoregion is limited to portions of Thurston and Pierce counties.  The Dan Kelly Ridge preserve in Clallam County was purchased by CNLM to protect an existing population of checkerspot butterflies that live in forest balds at much higher elevations than the South Sound Prairies.  This habitat is in the Low Olympics ecoregion and requires separate seed production for restoration efforts.  Several rows of the checkerspots’ host plant, harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), have been established at the nursery’s newest farm and will be ready for harvest this coming fall.  Many collections were made of other important checkerspot plants this past fall from a nearby preserve in Eden Valley that is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and hosts its own population of Taylor’s checkerpsots.  These collections will be added to the Low Olympics seed production in 2018.

Another population of Taylor’s checkerspots exist in the forest balds of the Olympic National Forest in upper reaches of the Dungeness Valley.  This population is at several thousand feet of elevation and falls within the High Olympics ecoregion requiring its own seed production.  Harsh paintbrush, as well as larval food and nectar plants, are being produced by CNLM to support this population.  Twenty pounds of seed of the annuals, Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta) and Blue-eye Mary (Collinsia parviflora), were spread on high elevation forest service sites in 2016 and harsh paintbrush will follow in 2017.

While no extant populations of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly exist in Island or San Juan counties, CNLM is planning to develop habitat that would support future reintroductions.  Island habitat will be based around a different host plant, the federally threatened golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta).  Whidbey Island falls into the Olympic Rainshadow ecoregion and hosts Smith Prairie near the town of Coupeville.  Smith Prairie is owned and managed by the Pacific Rim Institute (PRI) and is a golden paintbrush recovery site.  It also boasts a rare subspecies of the important larval food plant sea blush (Plectritis congesta ssp. brachystemmon).  The conservation nursery is working with PRI to enhance populations of both butterfly plants as well as a variety of other important nectar plants.  Several perennials from the Olympic Rainshadow ecoregion are established on CNLM seed farms including the golden paintbrush and PRI will be scaling up seed production of the rare sea blush in 2017.

Golden paintbrush populations are also being established at several sites in the San Juan Islands ecoregion.  Seed production for this region is in early stages; Sea blush and other food and nectar plants from this region have been established at CNLM seed farms while yet others are scheduled for wild collection in 2017.

The Willamette Valley has active Taylor’s checkerspot and golden paintbrush recovery programs as well. The golden paintbrush recovery program, managed by the Institute for Applied Ecology, has established over 100,000 plants in the wild across several populations and is increasing the quality and diversity of potential Taylor’s checkerspot habitat in the Willamette Valley.  Occupied checkerspot habitat in the Willamette is also being improved and augmented with nursery grown seed of English plantain (Plantago lanceolata), the alternative larval host plant for the butterfly.  This plant is non-native, but is far more common than the native paintbrush hosts and is critical to the survival of the checkerspot butterfly.

This region wide approach to butterfly recovery and habitat enhancement will add resiliency for the checkerspot, increase the diversity of native plants on the landscape and may even help to mitigate for some of the anticipated distribution shifts associated with future changes in the climate.