Monarch Highway Habitat Project

The National Wildlife Federation, along with its regional offices, state affiliates, and other organizations, are issuing a call to action for the increased support on monarch habitat along migratory flyways.

In January 2017, Abbott’s Mill National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Habitat Stewards hosted monarch butterfly enthusiast Mike McFarlin to present his experience identifying, collecting, and raising monarch caterpillars in Sussex County, Delaware. Nationwide the data details a sharp population decline of the monarch butterfly, which has been confirmed in local observations by Habitat Stewards. Evidence for the decline are varied, but the limited availability of the host plant, milkweeds (Asclepias species), seems to affect our local and migrating monarch butterfly populations. Mr. McFarlin suggested that a bounty of native Common (A. syriaca) and Swamp (A. incarnate) Milkweed exists along our state managed roadsides and a summer mowing schedule eliminates these important habitat plants.

The collective enthusiasm of Habitat Stewards for supporting pollinator and butterfly habitat generated an idea: The Monarch Highway Habitat Project. Habitat Stewards approached Sussex County DelDOT and requested modification of current mowing practices to focus on protecting the naturally abundant milkweed growth on roadside right-of-ways.

In spring 2017, in cooperation with DelDOT, and avoiding major highways, Habitat Stewards identified and adopted six habitat plots; four were marked with DelDOT “No Mow” signs and sanctioned “Monarch/Pollinator” signs. Safety for volunteers and driving visibility was a priority when considering plot sites. Supporting the DelDOT “Highway Beautification Program” and the Delaware State Pollinator Plan, Stewards maintained the positive appearance of their plot by picking up litter and trimming roadside growth, and began to collect butterfly and pollinator data. Initial data was recorded for milkweed density, blooming flowers, monarch butterfly and caterpillar populations, as well as, other insect activity.

Mike McFarlin and our Certified Wildlife Habitat™ Steward pilot Monarch Highway Habitat Project have received positive attention from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Delaware Department of Agriculture (Pollinator Map), local Delaware legislators, and Delaware drivers. In 2018, we look forward to expanding public awareness of highway beautification to include creating habitat to support pollinators and monarch butterflies.