Cheryl Schultz helped put the Fender’s blue butterfly on the road to recovery, from a low of about 1,000 butterflies in its Oregon habitat to 20,000 to 30,000 butterflies today. It’s a rare success story of an insect that has been downlisted from endangered to threatened, made possible, she said, by science, partnerships, and time.
Schultz, a professor of conservation biology in Washington State University’s School of Biological Sciences in Vancouver, is adopting the same approach to recover migrating monarch butterflies across the western United States. In recognition of her successes, she was chosen to present WSU’s Distinguished Faculty Address during the university’s weeklong celebration of academic achievement, Showcase.
“We need to understand the biology in the context of lands that are used for a lot of purposes,” she said. “We also need to work with people, because we’re not just protecting a species, we’re trying to balance it with the needs of people. If we’re going to recover endangered species, we’re going to have to do it with the people who are there now.”
Her address will focus on success stories and optimism, she said, because “I always feel optimistic that there’s the potential to pull together science, partnerships, and the funding that goes with them.”
When Schultz began studying biodiversity, the Pacific Northwest was convulsed by what people now call the spotted owl wars. Efforts to protect that threatened species were characterized as pitting timber jobs against conservation.
“Environmental issues were painted as very black and white, good or evil,” said Schultz. “Figuring out how to do something about it is not black or white, but the gray area in between.”
Schultz has devoted her professional career to that gray area.
She said she takes on new challenges from a place of optimism – perhaps not a natural starting point for a scientist who works with endangered and threatened species.
In the case of the monarchs, her team is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to evaluate habitat on the agency’s vast properties across the West. The department appreciates her approach enough that it funded the work for another five years – without her even requesting it.
She’s also working on a project to recover the coastal Oregon silverspot butterfly, and another endeavor with an “enormous goal,” she said: Schultz leads a team of scientists to determine the status of butterflies in the United States, jointly funded by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The scientists are pulling together available data to better understand what’s going on with all butterfly species in the United States, species by species.
Next year, she’ll be on sabbatical to serve as Scholar in Residence at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s new Center for Pollinator Conservation.
By Addy Hatch, WSU Insider