Corvallis Science and Nature: Progress on Butterfly Populations, Whale Strandings, Raising a Pint for Local Conservation Next Week

Endangered Butterfly Bounces Back 

The Fender’s Blue Butterfly is found only in the Willamette Valley, and was thought to be extinct for half of the 20th century, before a small population was rediscovered in 1989. It was listed as a federally endangered species in 2000. This week, after more than two decades of conservation efforts, the Fender’s Blue was delisted from endangered to threatened, a major milestone in the race to save this unique species.  

Several Corvallis-based groups, including the Greenbelt Land Trust, the Institute for Applied Ecology and Benton County Parks, have played central roles in bringing the Fender’s Blue back. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the butterflies can now be found on twice the acreage and at four times the number of sites as when it was listed. Like all of the Valley’s meadow species, the biggest threat to the Fender’s Blue continues to be habitat loss, but agreements with local farmers and meadow restoration projects have given hope to a species we once thought we would never see fluttering over Oregon fields again. 

A Rough Week for Whales 

In less positive biology news, three large whales washed up on the Oregon coast in an eight-day period in January. Though it’s unusual for three strandings to happen so close together, the details of each incident make the case for a coincidence rather than any kind of pattern.   

The first, a young adult gray whale, was found on January 11th, and appears to have been preyed on by orcas. The second, a sperm whale, washed up at Fort Stevens State Park on January 15th, after apparently suffering a collision with a ship propeller. The third, a newborn gray whale, was also found at Fort Stevens, on the 18th, and has no visible signs of predation or trauma. OSU Marine Mammal Institute staff have examined the remains, and are still investigating what caused the newborn stranding. Officials are asking the public to leave the remains where they are and not disturb them, so they can be scavenged by animals and decompose naturally.  

Gardening in a Changing Climate 

This coming Tuesday, January 31, Benton County Master Gardeners present the latest in their Gearing Up for Gardening series, and this one is particularly relevant to science- and nature-minded Corvallis gardeners. Dr. Tom Kaye from the Institute for Applied Ecology will give a talk called “Coping with Climate”, covering recent findings on how Pacific Northwest plants are responding to climate change. The event starts at noon on Tuesday, in the main meeting room of the Corvallis Public Library.  

Raise a Pint for Willamette Valley Conservation 

Also on Tuesday the 31st, the Greenbelt Land Trust is hosting a fundraiser at Sky High Brewing and Pub, to help fund their Heart of the Valley conservation campaign. $1 from every pint sold at Raise a Pint Night will go to the campaign, which is raising money to acquire land and connect habitats and trails around Corvallis. The event runs from 4:00 to 8:30 PM. There will be door prizes, and staff from the Greenbelt Trust will be on hand to answer questions about Heart of the Valley and its progress. According to the campaign website, the group has raised about three quarters of its $7 million goal.  

One Step Closer to Wave Energy 

The first utility-scale wave energy facility in the country is under construction off the Oregon Coast, and this week it crossed a big administrative hurdle. The final contracts are now in place for the PacWave South facility, a series of up to 20 power-generating wave converters in four separate berths located 6 miles out to sea from Newport. Oregon State University is a lead member of the project, along with the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Oregon. OSU will also be handling the environmental monitoring side of the project, to study and mitigate any effects on marine life.   

A Corvallis company, Gerding Builders, won the contract to build the shoreside piece of the facility, which is set to break ground this spring. The 12-mile-long cables that will connect the power generators to the shoreside building are being built in Norway, and are expected to arrive in Oregon next year for installation. The facility is set to come online in 2025. 

By Ian Rose 

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