Locally extinct butterfly species returned to San Francisco's Presidio

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion KGO logo
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Locally extinct butterfly species returned to SF Presidio
Wildlife experts help restore a colorful part of the Bay Area's ecosystem, Variable Checkerspot Butterflies that were extinct in San Francisco's Presidio since the late 1970's.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The spring weather is giving wildlife experts a chance to help restore a colorful part of the Bay Area's ecosystem. And if you take a stroll in the right area you may just see the results fluttering by.

They may be tiny, but you're looking at a big, ecological success story. Variable Checkerspot Butterflies that were extinct in San Francisco's Presidio since the late 1970's are now thriving again. The result of a recent project by wildlife managers at the Presidio Trust to first restore their native habitat, then reintroduce them.

"They've taken off. You can see them throughout all of these restored areas of the park," says Wildlife Ecologist Jonathan Young.

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Young and a team of butterfly experts are hoping to duplicate their success. On a sunny morning, they were combing the Marin Headlands, searching for another missing Presidio species, known as California Ringlets.

"They can be a little elusive. There's a lot of badger holes you have to be careful of when you're running around," Young cautions.

But after a few hours, they netted five males and five females. After putting them temporarily on ice, it was off to a meadow near Inspiration Point in the heart of the Presidio. It's part of a restored habitat that's become a critical urban oasis.

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"We have one of the largest concentrations of threatened and endangered butterflies, because we have this coincidence of intense human development," says Stuart Weiss, the chief scientist with the Creekside Center for Earth Observation.

But after hiking a few hundred yards down a grassy hillside, it was time to release the Presidio's newest residents.

Within minutes, the Ringlets were making themselves at home. With the females hopefully laying eggs for the next generation. And if the success of earlier re-introductions is an indicator, wildlife managers are hoping the Ringlets will soon be reestablished back in the Presidio. And helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

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"As we continue into the 21st century we're going to be needing to do a lot more of these," says Young.

Weiss echoed the importance of species restoration.

"They're the part of the insect world that we can easily observe. And people love butterflies," he said.

The Presidio Trust team is planning to continue the re-introduction over the course of many months, to make sure the Ringlets are firmly established.