Ottawa County hopes to increase butterfly populations

Monarch populations have been declining due to development

By Jim Hayden
The Holland Sentinel

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - Winds from Lake Michigan swept across the top of the bluff at Tunnel Park as heavy, dark clouds stacked up to bring a cold spring rain, but Melanie Manion saw colorful summer wildflowers and butterflies - lots of orange and black monarch butterflies.

"It's unattractive now," the Ottawa County parks natural resources management supervisor told The Holland Sentinel on April 8. "We'll plant beautiful wildflowers to bloom."

Manion is overseeing the new development of Monarch Waystations, habitats to attract the butterflies to more than a dozen parks around Ottawa County.

Monarch populations have been declining due to increased development that destroys the butterfly's habitat and pesticides.

"Further, the overuse of herbicides along roadsides and elsewhere is turning diverse areas that support monarchs, pollinators and other wildlife into grass-filled landscapes that support few species," said Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, on the group's website. "The adoption of genetically modified soybeans and corn have further reduced monarch habitat. If these trends continue, monarchs are certain to decline, threatening the very existence of their magnificent migration."

Monarchs are known for a mass migration in late summer and early fall from Canada and the United States to Mexico.

Manion became aware in February of the monarch's drastic decline and quickly decided to take action. She evaluated park sites throughout the county and created a two-year plan for the development and certification of Monarch Waystations through Monarch Watch.

Getting Monarch Watch certification for the sites costs $16 per location, a fee being picked up by the nonprofit Friends of Ottawa County Parks.

"They really emphasize the natural environment" in the parks, Friends President Don Williams said of parks officials. Supporting the project with about $200 made sense, he said.

"This seemed like, for us, a no-brainer," Williams said.

Otherwise, the plan isn't taking any extra parks department money. The work is being done with workers and materials already in the budget, Manion said.

Three parks - Historic Ottawa Beach, Hemlock Crossing and Riley Trails - are in the prime migration route for the butterflies and have established plantings that benefit the monarchs. These parks can be registered with Monarch Watch soon.

The second tier of parks - Tunnel Park, Kirk Park and Rosy Mound - are on the prime migration route but have low biodiversity and are not now conducive to attracting the butterflies, though monarchs have been spotted at the sites.

At Tunnel Park, a half-acre of invasive brome grass and spotted knapweed will be removed this spring and native species, including milkweed, a key to monarch development, will be planted. The work should be done by the fall, Manion said.

"Native plants have adapted to our local climate and environmental conditions and there is the added benefit of promoting Michigan's natural heritage," she said.

The change to native plants benefits the entire ecosystem.

"You help the monarchs and you help all the butterflies," she added.

Other sites, including Olive Shores and Pigeon Creek have low biodiversity and need plantings of native plants.

Once the sites are certified by Monarch Watch, Monarch Waystation signs will be added to educate the public about the sites.

"If we can be a model for what people can do in their yards, then it's definitely worth the effort," Manion said.

Individual property owners can get their land certified as well. There are 9,822 waystations registered with the group through February.

The county will be asking businesses to adopt the butterfly sites to help with upkeep.

Published: Wed, Apr 22, 2015