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Rare butterfly, plant found during dam study

Earthquakes aren't the only factor complicating the effort to raise the dam at Hagg Lake.

Earthquakes aren't the only factor complicating the effort to raise the dam at Hagg Lake. There's also the environment.

Clean Water Services is almost 90 percent complete with a long-term assessment that must be conducted by law called the Draft Planning Report and Environmental Impact Statement.

The EIS (as it's known) takes into account any impacts that might be felt by the surrounding wildlife if the dam were to be altered. The process is expected to be completed by May 2012 but that date has already been pushed back many times over the years.

In mid-June, an exciting ecological discovery was made. The Kincaid's Lupin, a threatened plant, and the Fender's Blue, an endangered butterfly, were discovered around Hagg Lake. These species are endemic to the Willamette Valley and part of southwest Washington, according to Kathy Cushman, a land and water specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation.

These dusty looking blue butterflies have only about a 10-day lifespan and are very rare. They are only found where the Kincaid's Lupin grows, which is host to this butterfly species. The plant has only a short time every spring when its seeds can be collected before they burst forth to further propagate the plant.

'The dam raise could take out about 70 percent of the known Lupin population at Hagg Lake,' Cushman said. 'So the impact on the butterfly would be a 70 percent loss of its host plant.'

However, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is working with Clean Water Services and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to come up with a plan to expand the plant's habitat, mitigating the adverse impact on its population.

Seeds from the plant have been collected for replanting but it could take up to five years before it is known whether replanting efforts are successful. These plants are remnants of the kind of the Upland Prairie Habitat that used to encompass almost the entire Willamette Valley before it was logged and irrigated for farming over 100 years ago.

'If we are able to maintain habitat for the butterfly, we maintain habitat for a whole suite of plants and animals,' Cushman said. 'The whole lake is not a good habitat. Portions of lake have already been converted to other kinds of habitats. These plants and butterfly are on the south facing slopes which retain a certain kind of soil structure, good drainage and no invasive species.'

It's possible there are other endangered plants in the area and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife are in the process of determining that now.

'We are glad we found it today and not right before the water level was raised,' said Mark Jockers, a spokesman for Clean Water Services. 'We have the luxury of time now to address it.'

Many of the other Lupins in the Willamette Valley are located on privately owned land so to find this on federal land is an opportunity to closely examine the plant and to protect its numbers as well as its visiting butterflies.

"This was a find. There was a lot of excitement when we discovered it," Jockers said.