mardon skipper

The mardon skipper is not eye-catching... 

If it were a bird, it would be called an LBB - a little brown bird. Small and brown, it flies in short bursts from one plant to another, never rising more than a few feet from the ground, the sort of butterfly that barely makes hikers break their pace as they stride through the mountain meadows in which it lives. The mardon skipper (Polites mardon) is known to live in just a few dozen sites ranging from the Cascades of southern Washington to the coastal range of northern California. Within the past decade, a resurgence of scientific research on the species has led to important discoveries regarding the mardon's habitat requirements. With this new found knowledge the Xerces Society and our partners are working together to protect the future of this humble little butterfly.
Life History
meadowMardon skippers rely on intact meadows that contain its host plants-fescues, other grasses, and sedges. On warm days you can see the butterflies skipping from plant to plant across the meadows. This habit of flying only short distances may be partly responsible for the mardon skipper's decline. Faced with disappearing meadows due to development, agriculture, and off-road vehicles, or from trees invading in the absence of wildfire, the butterflies have not moved to new locations. Grazing and the use of pesticides in forestry may have also led to decline. As a result the species was placed on the candidate list for the Endangered Species Act in 1999.

Little was known about the mardon skipper when it was listed as a candidate species. Since then, however, an increasing number of organizations have become engaged in its future, including the Xerces Society, the Interagency Special Status/Sensitive Species Program (ISSSSP) of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (as well as individual FS and BLM offices), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Washington State University (WSU), the Oregon Zoo, the Nature Conservancy (TNC), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Their efforts have led to a better understanding of the mardon skipper and toward real protections for it on public lands.
The Xerces Society is working with the ISSSSP, the Medford district of the BLM, and the Rogue River National Forest, to develop management plans for all mardon skipper populations in Oregon. These plans provide guidance on how to protect mardon skippers from the impacts of grazing, off-road vehicles, and tree encroachment into meadows. In Washington state, WDFW, TNC, WSU, and others are working to conserve the critically imperiled populations in the Puget Trough. Additionally, the USFWS and the Six Rivers National Forest in California funded a multi-year study to understand how controlled burning impacts mardon populations. Controlled burns are an important tool for restoring National Forest areas but can harm butterflies, and this research will enable better habitat management.
This June, in Klamath Falls, Oregon, we will be presenting the first Butterfly Conservation and Management Short Course. This full-day training will help land managers better understand butterfly biology and conservation needs, with a focus on the mardon skipper. The first short course is being sponsored by the Oregon Zoo and the Klamath Falls office of the USFWS.

To learn more about the role of wildfires in the life of the mardon skipper and efforts to protect the butterfly's habitat, read the article in the fall 2009 issue of Wings.
1971 -2011: Forty Years of Conservation
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Banner image:
Mardon skipper (Polites mardon) by Tom Kogut, U.S. Forest Service.

In-text image:
meadow by Scott Black
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