After 38 years with what is now the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and two years with Michigan State University, 61-year-old wildlife biologist John Lerg is retiring Thursday.
Over the years, Lerg held several positions with the DNRE, but it is his work with the Karner Blue Butterfly that put him on the map; he is largely responsible for the comeback of this rare butterfly.
Lerg’s first contact with the Karner Blue came in the 1990s at the Allegan State Game Area, where he was assigned as a field biologist. Experts had identified that the butterfly was present in the area and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had listed it as federally endangered. Lerg knew that in order to protect and enhance the butterfly officials needed to identify its habitat.
“We’ve certainly done things to protect the butterfly,” Lerg noted. In addition to identifying and then improving the openings in forested areas that the butterflies populate, officials also worked to increase growth of the lupine plant whose leaves the butterflies feed upon.
In large part as a result of Lerg’s efforts, today the Karner Blue Butterfly population appears to be doing very well.
Sara Schaefer, Southwestern management unit supervisor at the DNRE Plainwell Operations Service Center, is Lerg’s supervisor and has worked with him for the past seven years, most of those when it was the Department of Natural Resources.
“John is an excellent person to be a voice for the DNR,” she said.
He always does well at public meetings and at hunting expo booths, as well as working with young people, she noted.
Schaefer said Lerg will be missed.
“He’s always willing and able to fill in for me as well as answer and help with the public questions and inquiries here at the Plainwell Operations Service Center, which is a very busy office,” she said.
“John definitely has left a wonderful footprint on Southwestern Michigan and probably statewide with all of his work over the years.”
Lerg said he will miss the opportunity to take on special projects such as the Karner Blue Butterfly and the Kalamazoo River, and will miss his co-workers.
“We join this career path pretty much all of us because we have a passion for natural resources and we carry that passion into the assignments that we’re given … and I’ve really come to enjoy working with my counterparts that share that passion.” he said.
Although Lerg isn’t entirely sure yet what the future holds, he’s looking at opportunities. “I see an opportunity to carry my history, to carry my understanding of natural resources administration into new opportunities that might come up and already I’ve had some non-governmental organizations approach me,” he said.
He has only positive things to say about his decades as a wildlife biologist with the state. “It was really pleasant coming to work every day,” he said.