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McDonald’s folly becomes lasting legacy

Saturday, May 25, 2013
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Former state Sen. Roy McDonald will be remembered for his courageous, if career-ending, vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage, but the Wilton Wildlife & Nature Preserve may be his lasting legacy.

Whether Karner blue butterflies will still flit there in a century may depend on how warm and weird our weather becomes.

Last year’s Karner brood hatched early, thanks to a mild winter and warm spring. It was a little smaller than expected, but this year so far looks like a return to something closer to normal.

“There was a concern, and still is, whether climate change and mild winters, and with the dependency on the bloom of the blue lupine, that they could get off schedule and that that would have a negative impact on the species,” said Margo Olson, executive director of the preserve.

I confess I was among those who arched an eyebrow 20 years ago when then-Wilton town Supervisor McDonald proposed setting aside thousands of valuable acres in one of the Capital Region’s fastest-growing towns as a butterfly preserve. I personally love butterflies — I just never thought it would happen.

As it turns out, if there was a fool, it must have been me.

The town, New York state and The Nature Conservancy have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars since 1996, buying a former Boy Scout camp and other land, clearing away scrub pine and planting habitat for our local endangered species.

Today, the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park has the largest population of the little azure Lepidoptera in the Northeast.

Olson said the first butterflies of the year were spotted Monday, which is about the right time of spring historically for their hatch. There’s a window of only about three weeks to go to see them — that is how short their lives are.

No butterfly is built to last: While the colorful Monarchs migrate thousands of miles, no individual survives the entire trip.

As for the Karner blue, they live just long enough to chow down on blue lupine nectar and lay eggs. They might travel the length of a football field in their 10-day lifetime, Olson said.

The current generation will lay eggs that will hatch a second brood in July, which will lay eggs that won’t hatch until next spring.

The park headquarters on Scout Road is a good place to begin a butterfly search. You’ll also have good luck from the Old Gick parking lot on Route 50, four miles north of Northway Exit 15.

A guided walk will take place at Old Gick at 4 p.m. Thursday. There will also be a day-long wildlife festival Saturday, June 1, at the Camp Saratoga headquarters property. Biologists will explain what’s going on.

“With the awareness of the environment or climate change, I think people are becoming more informed and people are excited about what’s rare and that we have something rare and special here,” Olson said.

Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. The opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. He can be reached at 885-6705 or swilliams@dailygazette.net.

 
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