Department of Defense Spends Thousands to Save a Butterfly

taylors butterfly photo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Normally, common sense might suggest that living on a military base's artillery range would reduce an animal's hopes of long-term survival -- but for one threatened butterfly species, the opposite is true. Taylor's Checkerspot butterflies are listed as an endangered species in their native Washington State, so when thousands of them took up residence on Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, the insects earned the support of one of the most deep-pocketed agencies on Earth: the US Department of Defense. As it turns out, for the DOD to continue weapons practice on the base without interruption, it'd have to do its damnedest to make sure the fluttering little butterflies make a comeback.According to biologists, checkerspot butterflies may have seen their populations plummet to near-extinction due to habitat loss, but ironically the fragile insects have found safe haven in the unlikeliest of places, forming one of their largest colonies on the firing range of the military base. The unassuming insects might otherwise be no match for the armed forces juggernaut, but for the last several years, the butterfly has been a candidate for the federal endangered species list -- threatening the DOD's authorization to fire artillery in their habitat. If that were to happen, the land would be transfered to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, charged with ensuring the species' survival.

So, with the fate of the military base's artillery practice tied to that of an endangered butterfly, the DOD slipped a conservationist's cap over its standard-issue beret. Well, sort of.

The Department of Defense recently funded the construction of a $30,000 greenhouse to serve as a checkerspot butterfly nursery -- on the grounds of Mission Creek Corrections Center.

Working with the sustainable prisons project at The Evergreen State College, scores of inmates have been trained to help raise the endangered butterflies at the prison for their eventual release into the wild. And, if the butterfly breeding program funded by the DOD is successful, not only will the species' move further from extinction, the military base will once again be allowed to fire off its weapons unfettered by fluttering.

Project manager Kelli Bush perhaps described the program best in an interview with the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

"We like to think of it as a win-win, win-win-win," she said, noting the benefits to the military, local biologists, the inmates who gain a unique skill set, and of course the butterflies.

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