Saving the Fender's Blue Butterfly
Eighth-Grade Students of 2004
Grant Community Middle School
A project to help preserve the Fender's blue butterfly was developed by 30 sixth-grade students who worked on the project until they completed the eighth grade. Part of their classroom work at Grant Community Middle School in Salem, Oregon, involved learning about different environmental issues. The students first chose local endangered animals for their 3-year project. They then narrowed their focus to the native and endangered Fender's blue butterfly, which they were to study in detail in order to assist the species.
The students learned all they could about Fender's blue butterfly from the Internet and local experts. It became clear that the most important factor endangering this butterfly was the loss of its habitat. Fender's blue butterfly was originally widely found in upland prairie habitats throughout the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but over 90 percent of the native prairies in the valley have been destroyed by the actions of humans. In addition, the caterpillar has a very narrow range of food options, the most important being the threatened Kincaid lupine plant. The Kincaid lupine is a long-lived, perennial species that is native to the vanishing Willamette Valley prairies. The students found that the Kincaid lupine is not easy to grow and is also difficult to harvest, transport, and replant.
After 3 months of research, the students devised a two-part plan for their project. The first part of the plan involved restoring some of the butterfly's lost habitat. They found a park (Bonesteele Park) that was being converted into a native Willamette Valley prairie by the county public works agency. The students then spent 7 class days harvesting and cleaning native prairie seeds, preparing a ¾-acre plot in the park for seed cultivation, and removing weeds from the plot. After 2 years of labor, the student plot was transformed into a budding example of a Willamette Valley prairie. Throughout the plot were many small but vibrant Kincaid lupine plants, which the students hoped would attract Fender's blue butterflies.
In spring 2004, students made two unconfirmed observations of Fender's blue butterflies. The butterflies observed looked exactly like the Fender's blue butterflies seen in pictures. The students are staying in touch with the county public works agency in the hope of confirming that the butterfly has returned to their part of the Willamette Valley.
The second part of the students' plan was to develop a Celebrating Prairie Festival to be held for over 600 elementary school children in the Salem/Keizer School District. The festival was partially intended to teach the children about the life cycle of butterflies and to make them aware that a special species native to their own region, Fender's blue butterfly, is endangered. The students also wanted to educate the elementary school children about the importance of the prairie biome and to make them think twice before casually picking small wildflowers or carelessly stomping through sensitive grasslands. In developing events for the festival, the students composed a bilingual play (in English and Spanish) about the life cycle of and threats to Fender's blue butterfly. They also developed different activity stations to encourage hands-on learning among the children. In addition, some of the eighth-grade students accompanied a third-grade class to two native prairie sites in Oregon and helped guide the children through species identification activities.