Erin Baillargeon earns USFWS volunteer of the year

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New Richmond Middle School seventh grade science teacher Erin Baillargeon was presented with the prestigious Volunteer of the Year Award by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist and Volunteer Coordinator Chris Trosen during a brief ceremony Thursday afternoon, Nov. 16.

Baillargeon, the seventh recipient of the award established in 2011, along with her students, took on the responsibility for care and upkeep of several hundred wild lupine plugs in the middle school's greenhouse during the school year. The plugs were initially germinated at the New Richmond High School's Greenhouse with the help of Rachel Sauvola and her Agriscience students.

At the conclusion of the school year, Baillargeon, minus her students' help, became the sole caretaker for the army of plants.

"It is a rather difficult task trying to keep plants growing during warm summer days in a greenhouse setting because of the temperature extremes," said Trosen.

Baillargeon would water and care for the plugs twice a day to keep the plants healthy and growing.

The wild lupine plugs were eventually incorporated into a project being conducted by graduate student Michael Lopez, from the University of Minnesota, to test ways of moving Karner blue butterflies to new locations. Karner blue butterfly larva require wild lupine as a food source much like the larval form of monarch butterflies (caterpillars) require milkweed species.

Lopez's project pairs Karner blue butterfly eggs collected in the wild with lupine plants grown in the greenhouse to determine if biologists can simply move butterfly eggs to new locations and inexpensively and successfully start new colonies of butterflies.

If Lopez's project is successful, Baillargeon and her students will have the satisfaction of knowing their efforts helped contribute to removal of the Karner blue butterfly from the federal Endangered Species List.