Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Fort Indiantown Gap Offers Guided Tours Of Rare Regal Fritillary Butterfly Habitat In Lebanon County

This June and July, visitors are invited to come see the only population of rare regal fritillary butterflies in the eastern United States at Fort Indiantown Gap, near Annville, Lebanon County.
The free guided tours will depart promptly via caravan (convoy) at 10 a.m. on June 30, July 1, 7, and 8.
Those wishing to participate must arrive at least 30 minutes prior (9:30 a.m.) to the departure time to park, fill out necessary paperwork, attend a mandatory safety/orientation briefing and receive driving instructions.
Tours will last approximately three hours, but attendees can leave earlier if necessary. Attendees should also be prepared to provide vehicle make, model, year, color, license plate state/number and insurance carrier information.
Participants must meet by 9:30 a.m. at the Fort Indiantown Gap USO Liberty Center (previously named the Recreation Center), Building 13-190, located at the intersection of Asher Miner Road, Clement Avenue and Route 443 (GPS coordinates in decimal degrees: North 40.431, West 76.591).
Upon arrival to the installation, “wildlife event” signs will help to direct attendees to the parking area adjacent to the USO Center in the picnic grove where parking attendants will provide additional instructions.
The tours, which have been offered for more than 10 years, allow the public to see this rare butterfly and its associated rare grassland habitat on military training ranges, as well as many other natural wonders on the 17,000-acre military post, which serves as the Pennsylvania National Guard’s headquarters.
Visitors of all ages and abilities are encouraged to bring cameras and binoculars and should wear appropriate clothing and footwear for a nature walk on gravel trails and/or sometimes uneven, mowed paths. They should also consider bringing insect repellent, sun screen and other personal comfort items.
Drinking water will be provided. No reservations are required and no rain dates will be scheduled.
The tours also will include information related to current efforts to restore native grassland habitat across Pennsylvania and current efforts to raise regal fritillary caterpillars from eggs in a lab with support from the PA Wild Resource Conservation Program and in partnership with ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park and Temple University.
The ultimate goal is to return the regal fritillary to areas where they were located historically.
The regal fritillary butterfly is just one of the many rare species found at the Gap and is the official symbol for the PA Natural Heritage Program.
There are a wide variety of habitats for 49 species of mammals, 143 species of breeding birds, 37 species of reptiles and amphibians, 35 species of fish, 800+ species of plants, and many notable species of invertebrates including 86 species of butterflies and 500+ species of moths.
The majority of the species of conservation concern on site require early-successional habitat (grasslands, thickets, shrub lands, and young forests), found in high abundance and quality at Fort Indiantown Gap because of fires and disturbances created by military training.
The installation is home to 1,000 acres of scrub oak and pitch pine barrens and over 4,500 acres of native grassland habitat – the largest in the state.
“Our annual tours allow the public to witness up close some of the natural marvels that can be found on Fort Indiantown Gap’s ranges and observe the direct connection between 80 plus years of military training and the rare grassland habitat that the regal requires. It is our responsibility to preserve freedom, conserve wildlife species and serve the citizens of the commonwealth,” said Col. Robert Hepner, commander of Fort Indiantown Gap. “For the past several years, we have maintained status as the busiest National Guard training site in the nation and trained 4 times more soldiers on a per acre basis than sites exceeding 50,000 acres. It is no surprise to me that we have increased the amount of training and number of butterflies over the past 15 years.”
Fort Indiantown Gap is the only live-fire, maneuver military training facility in Pennsylvania.
The installation balances one of the region’s most ecologically diverse areas with a military mission that annually supports 20,000 Pennsylvania National Guard personnel and more than 120,000 additional personnel from other branches of service, multinational partners and interagency partners at the federal, state and local level.
For more information about the tours or the regal fritillary butterfly, visit Fort Indiantown Gap’s Butterfly Habitat webpage, send questions about the tours by email to: RA-DMVA-Wildlife@pa.gov  or call 717-861-2449.
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