Dade City has been inducted as a Monarch City USA – pledging to help preserve the monarch butterfly population.
In March, the city joined the ranks of four other Florida municipalities in addressing the plight facing these endangered insects.
The idea of seeking the designation was initiated by the Dade City Garden Club.
After the scarcity of the butterfly species became a topic of discussion at a board meeting last year, club members felt compelled to take action.
“When we did our research and saw the numbers drastically declining, that was alarming,” said Joan Hepscher, a club member.
They studied the guidelines of the Monarch City USA organization during meetings in 2018, and earlier this year the club approached a longtime supporter of theirs for help – Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez.
She was instantly on board in helping to move the project forward.
“I have come to know and respect the garden club,” Hernandez said. “My line is: ‘How can I help you?’”
The mayor then brought up the issue as an agenda item before the Dade City Commission, which ultimately approved the project.
The mayor signed a proclamation in March to establish Dade City as a Monarch City USA.
This national organization was formed in 2015 to help prevent the extinction of monarch butterflies.
It gets to the heart of the matter, addressing the lack of milkweed and nectar plants – the butterflies’ food source.
Limited nutrition is due, in part, to harsh weather conditions during winter seasons.
A 2016 study revealed that during the past two decades, the monarch population dropped by 68 percent, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Through Monarch City USA, municipalities across the United States are encouraged to join the effort in populating their land with milkweed and nectar plants.
Hepscher noted that when monarchs migrate from Canada to the U.S., and then to Mexico, they need to have “way stations.”
“As they fly, they need to have places to stop, eat, refresh and lay their eggs for the next generation,” she explained.
While this is beneficial to the monarchs, it also contributes to the circle of life for other insects.
Butterflies are just one of many pollinators who work as a team to provide nourishment for each other.
Thus, the Garden Club sees their efforts as being two-fold, not only preserving the monarchs, but wildlife on a whole.
On March 16, they had a monarch butterfly seminar to educate the public on how they can contribute in their own backyards.
The club will grant certificates to residents who follow simple guidelines, such as planting milkweed and nectar in their gardens.
The club will hold itself to those same standards, planting on its premises outside the clubhouse, as well.
In the pre-butterfly stage, caterpillars also benefit by eating the plant leaves down to uneven shapes.
Hepscher said that although they may not look aesthetically pleasing, the unshapely leaves serve their purpose.
“This plant is doing its job because it was here to feed the caterpillars, and it’s done that,” she stated.
Adults aren’t the only ones who are encouraged to join in the effort.
Hernandez has enlisted the city’s youth council to help on the project.
The Garden Club also has twice-a-year programs at the Hugh Embry Library for kids called ‘Nature Detectives.’
In these classes, the youth watch videos, do crafts and are involved in other activities to help them learn about the animal kingdom.
“We do believe educating children is the way to change the future and getting them to respect nature,” Hepscher said.
In some ways, the kids may be ahead of the game as they’ve already studied the monarch butterflies in depth.
The Monarch City USA designation includes the opportunity to display a Monarch City USA sign, which has not yet arrived.
The city is planning a fall festival to celebrate its induction as a Monarch City USA. It also plans additional educational seminars.
The Garden Club hopes that such events are held annually to encourage the preservation of wildlife.
“We feel we can take control of the future and we can make it better here in Dade City,” Hepscher stated.
Published April 24, 2019
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