Guest Post: Karner Blue Butterfly as a State butterfly wannabe
The Land Conservancy was interested to learn that there is a local effort to have the Karner blue butterfly designated as the State butterfly. Lori McElrath Eslick, a children’s book author and illustrator, learned about this rare and beautiful butterfly while participating in the Land Conservancy’s Preserved! program. Now, she and a group of West Michigan students are supporting a bipartisan effort to honor the Karner blue butterfly, as you can read about below.
By Lori McElrath Eslick
The Karner Blue Butterfly first impressed me with its color, which is a summer–like sky blue. What’s not to love about that? It depends upon another blue flower: the wild blue lupine which also happens to be another favorite (wildflower) of mine. So, when I heard that this particular butterfly is endangered and federally protected, my thought was: it needs us, it needs our help.
All of these thoughts happened before the recognition that our state is still one of two states that still don’t have a State butterfly. I found this fact out while I traveled the elementary school hallways and saw the list of state symbol posters that were plastered on the walls. You know the ones:
- State mammal: Whitetail Deer
- State fish: Rainbow Trout
- State rock: Petoskey Stone
- State flower: Black–eyed Susan
And we even have a State fossil: the Mastodon!
At the Newaygo Elementary School, which is a school I visit in a program of my creation, DRAWING, READING AND WRITING TRIANGLE that receives a financial grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation, I saw to it that the students that I met with would draw this endangered butterfly (or at least were introduced to the Karner Blue Butterfly) in their sketchbooks. We found that there are 3 sanctuaries in Newaygo County. Ironically, this is a butterfly they were very familiar with. The students and I talked about this butterfly, and we also watched videos of the butterfly to learn more about them and the environments that they live in. Then we made a decision: we are interested in this butterfly as our State butterfly. We took the next step and we wrote to our state legislators, State House Representatives Scott VanSingel (R) and State House Representative Terry Sabo (D). After a few phone calls with the Reps, they did something that is unheard of (almost), and they decided to co-sponsor the bill that they wrote: HB #4661 to make the Karner Blue Butterfly the State butterfly of Michigan.
I met with the students of Muskegon County, as I have a niece in a Muskegon Elementary School, at the Reeths–Puffer School. Terry Sabo even made time in his busy schedule to visit with these students to explain to them and answer their questions about how a bill becomes law. In Newaygo schools, Scott VanSingel also visited the students in the classrooms that I visit with, and explained this same thing. Just think of the old Schoolhouse Rock video.
The bill was also supported by the Muskegon schools that I visit with, and the students in those schools also wrote to support this butterfly. There is even a Karner Blue Butterfly Race supported by the Michigan Nature Association! My niece and I have set up a booth to support this butterfly too, with financial support of the Thrivent Action Team, we handed out the blue lupine seeds that the butterfly needs to survive as well as what we had fun describing as Karner Blue Butterfly bling: lapel pins of artwork that I did.
Well, the story happens to have run into a road block, as the committee that our HB #4661 was in, the House Government Operations Committee, has not brought this bill forward in order to move it on to the State Senate. The kids were so stoked to visit the State House whenever this happened. You can imagine the hands that went up immediately when I asked, “Who would like to make a trip to Lansing to be a witness to see the HB #4661 be brought to the floor?” Unanimously, all hands went up!
The students and I have taken the steps to write the other legislators “down the road” for our HB#4661, and are happy to report that our State Senator Jon Bumstead has written us to say that he is looking for our bill and is supportive of this bill when it should cross his path in the future. And when our Governor’s office called after receiving our letters, I was so happy! Governor Whitmer’s staff also wrote me to say she is also very supportive of the students’ and my choice of butterfly.
As a child, I lived on 40 acres on a dirt road so remote that I couldn’t even see the nearest neighbor. In this predicament even as a kid, I took to the animals and entomology around me, especially gravitating to art. I loved to watch nature and then to draw nature. Now as a visiting classroom artist, I often tell the students that this experience of growing up in rural Michigan really has given me an appreciation for nature. And I remember seeing the Karner blue butterfly, though as a child I didn’t know the name for this sky–blue colored butterfly, but what a wonder this small butterfly was to me. My favorite color, this Michigan blue.
Now, as an adult, my appreciation for this small butterfly has grown. Visiting classrooms and seeing the kids’ faces as we talk about this butterfly, I can tell you how much the kids of Michigan embrace such a small creature when they learn more about it. I am hopeful that when this becomes a State symbol in the elementary school hallways of our state, the kids of Michigan will know more about the endangered species of our state. My hope is that the students will take care of the small creatures, learn to embrace what is our wild Michigan, and also know that they have a voice in our legislative future too: their future.
What you can do to help make this our State butterfly, and believe me this is possible, but it takes action:
When our legislators hear from Michigan residents, they do listen. Jason Sheppard is the committee chair of the Government Operations Committee that the bill is in. Call or write to Rep. Sheppard and ask him to “move the HB #4661 forward to make the Karner Blue Butterfly the State butterfly.” It will then go to the State Senate to start this process over again.
Phone: (517) 373-5795
Lori McElrath Eslick
Facebook page: Karner Blue Butterfly for the State Butterfly of Michigan
The Land Conservancy has helped preserve and restore places where the Karner blue butterfly thrives on our nature preserves, on public lands and on private conservation easement land. The Maas Family Nature Preserve supports a population of the rare butterfly and is one of the only sites known to contain that species in Kent County.