by Kristen Beverage-Doss

Teaming up to save the Grizzled Skipper

Deep in the forest, there is a rare and beautiful species called the Grizzled Skipper.

It isn’t a fish, bird or mammal – but an insect.

A butterfly to be exact. Petite in size, no bigger than a quarter, its brownish colored body is speckled with a variety of white spots. Sadly, the Grizzled Skipper has disappeared from much of its historical range due to habitat loss and as a result of gypsy moth spraying which inadvertently killed this butterfly. 

At one time, West Virginia was second only to Michigan in known colonies of the Grizzled Skipper, yet today, there is only one remaining population.  That population is in Greenbrier County, located on the Monongahela National Forest.
  
“Because we are home to the only remaining population of the Grizzled Skipper in the state, it is extremely important that we manage vegetation so that we can provide the habitat needed by this species,” said Jim McCormick, Wildlife Biologist for the Marlinton/White Sulphur Ranger Station. 

One way to create or improve habitat for the Grizzled Skipper is to remove trees, allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor where the skippers live. This allows more of the skipper’s nectar and host plants to grow.  Brush and saplings, especially young Virginia pines have been encroaching onto the road banks and even into the roads where the skipper occurs, blocking out this needed sunlight. Several of the saplings had grown too big to be able to mow with a tractor or a brush hog. 

“Because this population occurs along a long road corridor, we needed to get creative in order to be able to improve the habitat,” McCormick said.  “We were able to partner with the Ruffed Grouse Society to get this work done quickly and effectively.”

The Ruffed Grouse Society is a conservation organization that works with private landowners, as well as state and federal land managers interested in improving their lands for ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and the other songbirds and wildlife that have similar requirements.  And, they have some great tools. In West Virginia, the Ruffed Grouse Society has purchased a CAT 299D Forestry mulcher for use in creating the early successional habitat that is needed by grouse and a variety of other wildlife species.   This machine has been used extensively in the northern part of the Monongahela National Forest on both state and federal lands.  But, this was the first time it was used specifically to improve butterfly habitat. 

It may seem strange that an organization that focuses on ruffed grouse was interested in helping create butterfly habitat, but the partnership was quite natural.  In fact, this population of the Grizzled Skipper was originally discovered by accident by Tom Allen while he was monitoring grouse populations for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in the 1990s. 

Using the mulcher in this area gave the forest a chance to see what this type of machine could accomplish. The mulcher can be used in a variety of ways including being used to create and maintain wildlife habitat, mechanically enhance timber resources through crop tree release and timber stand improvement, treat invasive species through the removal of non-native shrubs and trees, and create high quality pollinator habitat.   

We are looking forward to being able to incorporate the mulcher in our future work to benefit butterflies, birds and mammals. 

Great things are happening in the Forest.

Until next time – Get outside and enjoy your public lands!