About 80 percent of the monarch butterflies have been wiped out.
Count yourself among the lucky if you’ve had the chance to see a monarch butterfly recently. Like bees, monarch butterflies are important pollinators and essential in food production, but over the past 20 years 80 percent of them have disappeared, according to the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Climate change, deforestation and pesticides are partly to blame for the decline in monarch butterfly populations and have prompted the federal government and non-profit organizations to mobilize communities into doing their part to create habitats for the orange and black-winged insects.
Last month, the Town of Townsend along with second graders from Townsend Elementary School took a pledge to help monarch butterflies by planting a garden that will serve as refuge during the insect’s annual migration to and from Mexico – a journey that can be as far as 3,000 miles.
Townsend Councilwoman Lorraine Gorman who is in charge of the town’s parks and recreation department has led the project with the blessing of other members of the council who issued a proclamation on Earth Day to protect the insects.
Gorman said that Townsend Mayor Jermaine Hatton was the first in Delaware to take the National Wildlife Federation’s “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.”
The pledge shows the commitment of city and town leaders to promote monarch butterfly conservation efforts. Two other mayors from Delaware municipalities have also sign on, including Newark Mayor Polly Sierer and Slaughter Beach Mayor Harry Ward.
“We’re very, very excited about this project and how our community will help the population of monarch butterflies,” Gorman said. “This is really important for all of us.”
Middletown-based Mr. Mulch donated the mulch for a nine-foot by 36-foot plot behind Townsend Elementary School last month. On Monday, Gorman, students and other volunteers planted 40 plants of 10 different types that the monarch butterflies love, including black eye Susan, various milkweeds, Hello Yellow, bee balm, Baby Joe, and others.
It’ll take a year before the butterflies find their way to the plants, according to wildlife experts.
“The Delaware Nature Society has been instrumental in providing us with advice on plantings, where to get them, and the design of the garden. We’re very grateful for that,” Gorman said. “These plants will take care of the monarch butterfly, from the time it’s a caterpillar when they eat the milkweed until such time as they become butterflies.”
Town officials said that involving Townsend Elementary School in the project will enhance student learning.
“The teachers are using this for class, teaching students about the plants butterflies need and so forth. It’s all an educational experience,” Gorman said.
Melissa Curley, a second grade teacher at Townsend Elementary, has been very involved in the project.
“We had been studying different types of habitats for butterflies in the beginning of the year, so it was perfect coincidence that this project came along,” Curley said. “The students will learn about creating these types of opportunities for endangered species to repopulate and increase those numbers.”
Townsend Principal Don Davis said that initiatives like this one are important because students have the chance to interact with the environment and learn from it.
“We want to help save these beautiful butterflies and our second graders were already learning about other types of butterflies. Now, they’ll learn about monarchs too and see what the differences are and how they impact our environment,” Davis said. “Knowing that these butterflies are dying makes the students very sad. They want to know why it’s happening, and they want to help.”
How you can help
Residents who are interested in creating a habitat for monarch butterflies in their yards can also take the Butterfly Hero Pledge and receive a butterfly garden starter kit at http://www.nwf.org/Butterfly-Heroes/Getting-Started.aspx or by calling the National Wildlife Federation at 1-800-822-9919.