Blazing a trail with butterflies

Keen on conservation biology, grad student Cheryl Schultz 15 years ago began investigating whether habitat corridors were needed for the survival of an Oregon butterfly.

Today Schultz is the acknowledged authority in the Pacific Northwest on butterfly conservation. An assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences at WSU Vancouver, she built her reputation and her expertise through a series of 35 modest grants from a variety of governmental agencies and conservation groups. 

With her knowledge and experience, Schultz can advise land managers trying to balance the need to preserve rare species with the growing pressures to alter native habitat.

“Agencies call me all the time about their at-risk butterflies,” she said. “We’re unique — there is no other lab in Oregon or Washington that focuses on butterfly conservation.”

Habitat corridors
Her career path began with a request to the Nature Conservancy as she began her graduate program in 1992.
“I wanted to use science to inform conservation choices,” Schultz said, and “to study if animals use corridors to move between parks and preserves. 

“I discussed this with the Nature Conservancy, and their staff from across the nation contacted me with potential projects. I decided to study the Fender’s blue butterfly near Eugene, Ore. I had never worked with butterflies, but it was an ideal project to develop science applying to practical conservation problems,” she said.
“That has remained my research focus: the biology of rare butterfly species and how to develop science-based conservation plans that hopefully will ensure their survival.”

Still an admirer
After 15 years, she still enjoys working with these colorful winged creatures.

“I love watching butterflies,” she said. “They are amazing and beautiful.

“As a graduate student, I lived in field sites. I really loved walking around in the very early morning and at dusk. I loved that sense of place and understanding that results from living at one site and watching it so closely.”

With a wistful sigh, she acknowledged that she no longer spends her mornings and evenings at research sites.
“I’m now a mom with two young children. I want to be home. But, I still love butterflies.”

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