Off-Ramp

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El Segundo Blue Butterfly saved from the brink of extinction

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp

The El Segundo Blue Butterfly sits on a coastal buckwheat plant. The butterfly spends its whole life around the coastal buckwheat, which can last anywhere from two to seven days. Andres Aguila/KPCC

Over 25 years ago, the El Segundo Blue Butterfly was near extinction. After years of habitat destruction, the rare species numbered the low five hundreds, limited to a few small patches of land near LAX. In 1976, it became the first ever insect on the federal endangered species list.

Today, after the airport spent millions of dollars, the El Segundo Blue is thriving--now numbering well over 100,000. Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson went along for a tour of the butterfly's habitat.

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, a dozen journalists meet at the LA Airport's Flight Path Museum, a small building dedicated to the airline industry's golden age.

Every summer, when the El Segundo Blue is most active, LAX employees and consultants conduct a butterfly census: a survey of the El Segundo sand dunes. We’re in the middle of the count right now, but it looks like the butterfly population is sticking within its normal range.

After some introductions from LAX officials and a briefing on the history of the butterfly, the group piles onto a bus, headed for the habitat.

Just west of LAX's four runways, the dunes are a 43 acre plot of brush, sand and water overlooking Dockweiller State Beach. Planes fly overhead as reporters and cameramen struggle for a glimpse of the endangered bug:

Heading up the tour is entomologist Dick Arnold, who specializes in endangered insects. He's been working with LAX to protect the Blue Butterfly since conservation effort began in 1986. He said when the airport worked to protect the El Segundo Blue, they got a lot more than they bargained for.

"This is a habitat that supports a lot of unique species. Because it's a butterfly, people can better relate to it than they can some wasp, or beetle," said Arnold. "It's kind of an endangered habitat."

Arnold said that because of the conservation efforts, not just the butterfly is thriving, but the entire El Segundo Sand Dunes habitat.

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