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Scarce state butterfly habitat found at Rainbow Lake

Richard D. L. Fulton
Emmitsburg Dispatch

(10/9) The presence of White Turtlehead, a plant necessary for the survival of the state butterfly, the Baltimore Checkerspot, has been identified at Rainbow Lake.

The Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) is listed as a "watched species" on the state rare, threatened and endangered species list and described as uncommon to rare. In this region, the Checkerspot relies solely upon the presence of the White Turtlehead in order for the female to lay eggs, according to a spokesperson with the Baltimore Checkerspot Restoration Project.

The plants (Chleone glabra) were found and reported to The Dispatch by a town resident. The news editor and the reporting party confirmed their presence on Sept. 28, and The Dispatch subsequently verified the identity of the flowering plant with the BCRP.

The White Turtlehead thrives only in certain environments, particularly in a "fen," lowland covered wholly or partly with water and with peaty, alkaline soil. The flowers have also been found on wooded hillsides. Development, especially along the Eastern seaboard, has been blamed for much of the species' decline.

The plants discovered near Rainbow Lake were growing in thickets along a small creek adjacent to a logging road leading to a denuded (from logging) clearing overlooking the lake.

It's not known how much of the White Turtlehead growth may have been destroyed in establishing the logging road. Additionally, tracks indicative of all-terrain vehicles were present in the immediate area.

No effort appears to have been made to protect the plants from ATVs, damage by hunters, deer (who are fond of White Turtlehead) or on-going logging activities, but the BCPR said the scarce butterflies need a lot of them to maintain a local Checkerspot population.

On Sept. 5, the town board of commissioners took no action on a proposed resolution by Commissioner William B. O'Neil Jr. that would have implemented a hunting moratorium on town lands to allow time to develop a wildlife management plan.

Part of that plan would likely have addressed the protection of rare, threatened and endangered species on town lands.

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