Autumn ends the 3,000 mile mass migration of monarch butterflies to their wintering grounds in Central Mexico. Although fewer butterflies have been migrating throughout the past 20 years, more have begun to stop at Raritan Valley Community College.
RVCC’s milkweed plants provide an ideal breeding ground for the third generation of monarchs to lay their eggs. Most are laid in July and August near the Children’s Campus, where Cathy Griffin, Children’s Campus Director and Monarch Teacher Network Educator gets to observe this event.
“Having the monarch way station at the Children’s Campus is a great way to teach children life cycles,” Griffin said. “It’s hands-on learning, it teaches them vocabulary and it teaches them about climate and mapping.”
Once the eggs are laid, children pick them and place them in containers. When they hatch in September and October, the children release them so that they can begin the journey to Canada.
Griffin says that before she joined the RVCC community, she used these teachings to educate special needs children in a public school. She first learned of the problems affecting monarchs at a workshop for Monarch Teacher Network.
Since her workshop, the survival of monarch butterflies has become more and more uncertain. In 2014, 57 million monarchs arrived in Central Mexico—80 percent less than the 20 year average of 300 million. This is a problem because monarchs are an indicator species, meaning that their presence indicates a healthy environment—or lack thereof. The dwindling population is a symptom of larger environmental problems: climate change, habitat destruction and deforestation.
This issue caught the attention of Katherine McVicker, member of the RVCC Board of Trustees, when she read a Washington Post article about threats to the monarch population. McVicker showed the article to Brian O’Rourke, Facilities and Grounds Executive Director, who then challenged Sue Dorward, Sustainability Coordinator, with making the College monarch-friendly.
Dorward collaborated with Griffin and Caroline Seibert, Benefits and Human Resources Specialist. They worked to expand RVCC’s monarch waystation from the Children's Campus to the entire campus through the fourth annual Campus Cares Project. “By providing for pollinators—because we are river friendly and because we are a monarch waystation—we are doing our part,” Griffin said.
Griffin says Campus Cares made the College monarch-friendly by “adjusting the height by three inches of mowed fields, documenting the amount of deicing materials [RVCC] uses, implementing water saving practices, creating no-mow areas and discontinuing the use of pesticides.”
Campus Cares was originally designed to foster native ecosystems on campus by planting native plants. White-tailed deer were a serious problem with past Campus Cares—they are native to the area, therefore they typically eat native plants.
To solve this, Emilie Stander, Environmental Studies Professor, worked with Dorward to select native, deer-resistant, monarch-friendly plants for all seven locations around campus this year.
Eighty-three volunteers, 4,800 dollars and 345 monarch-friendly plants later, RVCC can now say it is as a certified 20/20 Colossal Waystation. The last planting was on June 2, 2015. Facilities and Grounds is in charge of maintaining the native plants.