SURVIVAL of a population of a rare butterfly species living in the central Wimmera is likely to hinge on the clearing of natural vegetation.
But, unlike most cases involving threatened species, the butterfly needs less instead of more natural vegetation so it can feed and breed.
The golden-rayed blue butterfly, Candalides neolkeri, only lives in two isolated areas in the Wimmera. It is the only Australian butterfly solely native to Victoria.
One of the butterfly's homes is scrubland near Lake Wyn Wyn, north of Natimuk, and part of the land is owned by the Trust For Nature. The other is at nearby Oliver's Lake.
The Trust has applied to Horsham Rural City Council for a planning permit to `ecologically thin' stands of regenerating melaleuca or paperbark trees at its Lake Wyn Wyn site to guarantee survival of an understorey plant critical for the butterfly's survival. Native creeping boobialla, Myoporum parvifolium, a common plant gardeners use as a drought- tolerant alternative for lawn, provides the solitary shelter and food for the butterfly.
The butterfly not only lays eggs beneath and on the plant, but also feeds on nectar from its white star-shaped flowers.
Trust For Nature Wimmera manager Adam Blake agreed the process of interfering with natural woodland to protect an endangered species seemed unusual and radical. But he said the plan, which had involved a collaboration between the Trust, Sustainability and Environment Department, Parks Victoria and ecologist Fabian Douglas, who discovered the butterfly several years ago, had undergone scientific analysis and was necessary.
"We are pragmatic and do what's required," he said.
Mr Blake said since the Trust For Nature area had been protected from grazing and other agricultural practices, the rate of melaleuca regeneration had been rapid and thick.
"The melaleuca has grown woody over the last 10 years, like hairs on a dog's back, and it's meant the boobialla, in some areas, has been dying. No boobialla, no butterfly," he said.
"It's not a clearing job. It's ecological thinning and the planning permit is for a three-hectare area where it's appropriate.
"It's fantastic we can do something to protect an endangered species endemic to the region."
Editorial - page 22