The tiny St. Francis Satyr butterfly lives in only one place on Earth: a U.S. military base. It’s one of the planet’s rarest butterfly species, with only 3,000 remaining. Each of those butterflies live at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. They are surviving thanks to federal protection from the Endangered Species Act. Who would guess that this particular butterfly species would survive only on a military base?
The butterfly appears just twice a year for two weeks at a time. That’s when Michigan State University biologist Nick Haddad rushes to Fort Bragg to count the fluttering creatures. He joins a team of Army biologists working to improve the butterflies’ habitat.
Bombs and butterflies? It’s more common than you might think. Military bases across the United States have turned into protected areas for some species. There isn’t much development in areas where soldiers train. That makes military bases a prime habitat for rare animals, according to Fort Bragg biologist Brian Ball.
Fort Bragg boasts another endangered species—the small red-cockaded woodpecker. This woodpecker was one of the very first species to be protected by federal regulations. It lives only in long leaf pines, which have been disappearing across the Southeast due to development and suppression of fires. Initial efforts to save the woodpecker and their trees upset landowners and frustrated Army officials. In an effort to save the woodpecker, military exercises were suspended in certain areas.
Then bureaucrats and biologists changed their approach to saving the woodpecker. They loosened requirements for landowners and military bases. The Army resumed training on the grounds. Officials agreed to set controlled fires, an important key to the woodpecker’s survival. Everyone worked together, and their efforts paid off. It took time and millions of dollars—$408 million over 19 years, to be exact. But the red-cockaded woodpecker may fly off the endangered list.
What’s the connection between the woodpecker and the St. Francis Satyr butterfly other than their joint residence on a military base? At one point, both species were found nowhere else in the world. The woodpecker is “an umbrella species.” That means what helps the woodpeckers is good for the butterflies and dozens of other vulnerable species. For example, the butterflies and woodpeckers both depend on brush fire for survival. God designed these species to benefit in similar ways from the same environment for their own good. Who would have guessed the correlation between bombs and butterflies, warriors and woodpeckers?
(A St. Francis’ satyr butterfly rests on a leaf in a swamp at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Monday, July 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)