By Liz Kimbrough
The side of the road isn't usually thought of as ideal habitat. But for insects, such as butterflies and their caterpillars, the long expanses of land along roads and utility corridors add up to a considerable amount of home turf.
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By Courtney Lindwall
If you're one of those people cooped up safely at home, with creative energy and free time to spare—count yourself lucky. Here, we've rounded up a list of two dozen environmental projects that can make your time indoors, or right outside, a little brighter. Whether you're ready to start rescuing more of your kitchen scraps, sewing your own cloth napkins, or documenting those backyard butterflies, we hope these simple green ideas will provide a calming means of coping during these unprecedented times. Have fun and stay safe.
Experiment in the Kitchen<p><strong>Spice up mealtime with recipes from </strong><a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/" target="_blank">Save the Food</a> that will also help prevent your food from going to waste. Make a fromage fort to spread on your crackers, or "scraps falafel" to use up wrinkly onions and wilted herbs. And for dessert, how about some <a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/leftover-mashed-potato-apple-cider-donuts" target="_blank">leftover mashed potato apple cider donuts</a>? </p><p><strong>Rescue wilting herbs.</strong> Make <a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank">herb oil ice cubes</a><a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank"> by </a>packing diced herbs into an ice cube tray, covering with olive oil, and freezing. Thaw for ready-made flavor in your next dish. You can also transform less-than-fresh herbs into sauces, like chimichurri or pesto, or roast them and mix with salt to create longer-lasting seasonings. </p><p><strong>Start a windowsill herb garden. </strong>You'll need some seeds or a small plant, an upcycled container like a coffee canister that leaves room for growth and drainage, and a sunny ledge. (The Herb Society of America can help you determine <a href="https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/intro-to-herbs/hsa-gardening-for-kids/light-indoor-gardens.html" target="_blank">the right dose of light and water for each species</a>.) In a few weeks' time, you'll be ready to add a sprig of fresh basil to your bowl of pasta or diced cilantro to your batch of guac.</p><p><strong>Arrange a plant-based recipe swap</strong> with friends and family, which will reduce your diet's climate impacts while creating some virtual community. (Remember: If <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sujatha-bergen/saving-planet-starts-our-plates" target="_blank">every American cut just one hamburger</a> or about a quarter pound of beef out of their diet each week, we could reduce emissions by as much as taking about 10 million cars off the road each year.)</p>
Enjoy a Dose of Nature<p><strong></strong><strong>Make your own basic bird feeder</strong> using pine cones, twine, nut butter, and birdseed. <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-rxsVfAvaa/" target="_blank">This video from the Feminist Bird Club shows you one way to do it.</a> Hang it on a nearby tree you can spot through your window, then grab a pair of binoculars and do some armchair birding!</p><p><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-and-why-be-seed-savior" target="_blank"><strong>Create an herbarium</strong></a>—a scrapbook of pressed, dried flowers or other plants. To prepare your samples, press the plant matter in a large book or between sheets of newspaper and place a weight on top. When the leaves are dry, mount them on acid-free paper to preserve them, and label each specimen on the page. You can also include illustrations, photographs, seed packets, and notes.</p><p><strong>Sharpen your naturalist ID skills.</strong> Try to identify every species of plant in your backyard or on a neighborhood walk. You can do the same for wildlife—and share your findings through <a href="https://www.projectnoah.org/" target="_blank">Project Noah</a>, a citizen science platform to discover, share, and identify wildlife.</p><p><strong>Grow new indoor plants</strong> with the use of stems and leaves, rather than seeds. Though it <a href="https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/how_to_propagate_houseplants" target="_blank">depends on your individual plant</a> species, propagating houseplants is often as easy as cutting off a stem or leaf from an existing plant and sticking it in soil or fresh water. If it takes, a new root system should form within a few weeks—leaving you with a hearty second plant within a few more months. (Pro tip: This works for green onions too! Nearly submerge their sliced-off roots, end down, into a glass of water that you change every few days. Voilà: a nearly endless supply of scallions.)</p><p><strong>Observe monarch butterflies</strong> in your backyard and share your findings with Monarch Watch, an organization devoted to their <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/monarch-butterflies-get-head-start-schoolyard" target="_blank">conservation</a>. Each year, monarchs make a remarkable 3,000-mile trek from as far north as the southern parts of Canada to the mountains of Mexico and back—but these pollinators are <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sylvia-fallon/monarch-butterfly-numbers-fall-again" target="_blank">in danger</a>. Register as one of Monarch Watch's citizen scientists to <a href="https://monarchwatch.org/calendar/?fbclid=IwAR1bawlAoraeMokwdiZa_GVONQqtDnqQxc_EM_UwzbO0zhq733PT6CQIgLc" target="_blank">help track the population's health</a>.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank">Boost your backyard biodiversity</a>. </strong>Plant some milkweed—the main food source for monarch caterpillars and egg-laying habitat for the butterflies. Hang a bee nesting box somewhere it can get sunlight and warmth. Add a barn owl box or attach a simple roosting perch to a pole. For reptile enthusiasts, set up a small wood pile, using brush or old logs as shelter for lizards and snakes (plus fungi).</p>
Do Some Handiwork and Art Projects<p><strong>Make face masks </strong>for your friends, family, and workers on the frontlines. This <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/DIY-cloth-face-covering-instructions.pdf" target="_blank">Center for Disease Control guide</a> breaks down different techniques. If you're comfortable sewing, you'll just need two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of fabric, two pieces of elastic, and a needle and thread for each mask. The no-sew option only requires a T-shirt and scissors. Remember: Cloth masks should be cleaned regularly (the CDC says a washing machine is sufficient) in order to remain effective.<strong></strong></p><p><strong>Get your crayons out </strong>and do some therapeutic coloring. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and as part of a collaboration with NRDC, Studio Number One and its creative director, artist Shepard Fairey, have converted some of its archival activist artwork into <a href="http://www.studionumberone.com/free-downloads" target="_blank">black-and-white printouts for at-home coloring.</a></p><p><strong>Tackle your plastic bag stash</strong>, especially if your city or town is among those that recently banned the bag. Since current conditions may eliminate collection and recycling programs for plastic bags in your area, consider upcycling them instead. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to make outdoor pillow cushions stuffed with plastic bags, weave bags into <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-basket-out-of-plastic-bags/" target="_blank">sturdy baskets</a>, or wind them into jump ropes.</p>
Build Your Community<p><strong></strong><strong>Start an environmental movie club.</strong> Various apps let you host movie nights with friends online, so you can chat while you watch. You can find our recs for standout environmental films on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-QNBxqJAUR/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>—including <em>Poisoning Paradise</em>, <em>Virunga</em>, and <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank"><em>The Biggest Little Farm</em></a>—with short summaries and tips on where you can find them online.</p><p>Document the environmental changes in your community<strong>, as they relate to climate change, through the </strong><a href="https://earthchallenge2020.earthday.org/" target="_blank"><strong>Earth Challenge </strong>2020's online portal</a>. The project will collect billions of observations in air quality, plastic pollution, and insect populations, and your insights will help promote policy change to address our warming world.</p><p><strong>Tune in to a new podcast</strong>. We recommend <a href="https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/range/hot-take-4#/" target="_blank"><em>Hot Take</em></a>, featuring NRDC's own Mary Heglar and her cohost Amy Westervelt, which takes a critical but constructive, intersectional look at how climates issues are being covered in the media. And despite the weighty content of the podcast, laughter is one of its defining sounds.</p><p><strong>Connect with climate justice activists</strong> by following along with <a href="http://thisiszerohour.org/our-actions/#actions" target="_blank">Zero Hour's Getting to the Roots digital series</a>. Each week, it focuses on a different theme that is a root cause of the climate crisis as well as ways to solve it—through digital leadership training, webinars, virtual open mics on Instagram and Twitter, art competitions, and podcast releases.</p><p><strong>Write a </strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-write-successful-letter-editor" target="_blank"><strong>letter to the editor</strong></a> that tackles one of the environmental issues facing your community that's close to your heart. The letter can be written in response to a piece that's already been published by a given media outlet, or it can be a proactive statement of support for or opposition against a particular issue that affects fellow readers. It's the perfect way to reach thousands of individuals and still remain publicly engaged without having to leave the comfort of your home.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Both Eastern and Western monarch butterflies are seeing their populations plummet precipitously, worrying scientists that the future of the species is in peril, according to multiple surveys of butterfly populations.
- Monarch Butterfly Population Plummets in California - EcoWatch ›
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The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Wednesday, shows an increase of 144 percent from last year's count and is the highest count since 2006. That's good news for a species whose numbers had fallen in recent years, but conservationists say the monarch continues to need Endangered Species Act protection.
The count of 6.05 hectares of occupied forest is up from 2.48 hectares last winter. The increase is attributable to favorable weather during the spring and summer breeding seasons and during the fall migration. Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development.
The population of monarch butterflies that spend winter along the California coast dropped 86 percent since 2017, according to a recent count by the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group.
Preliminary results from the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, an annual citizen science program, recorded less than 30,000 butterflies overwintering in California, a significant decline from the estimated 192,000 in 2017. The official numbers will be released later this month.
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The Migration and Importance of Monarchs
Monarch butterflies, which pollinate many different kinds of wildflowers, are among nature's great wonders. Their annual migration is one of the most awe-inspiring on Earth: Each fall, millions of these striking black-and-orange butterflies take flight on a 3,000-mile journey across the U.S. and Canada to wintering grounds in Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains.
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Monarch butterflies are already in danger. Their numbers have decreased by 80 percent in the past 20 years, and this year's count of the number of the black-and-orange butterflies wintering in Mexico was lower than 2017's.
Now, researched reported Tuesday in a Louisiana State University (LSU) press release reveals that two human-caused environmental concerns could combine to pose another deadly threat to monarchs in the future: climate change, and the spread of non-native species.
The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Monday, shows a decrease from last year's count and confirms the iconic orange and black butterfly is still very much at risk. The count of 2.48 hectares of occupied winter habitat is down from 2.91 hectares last winter.
Overall, monarchs have declined by more than 80 percent over the past two decades.
The monarch butterfly has a new chance at recovery, thanks to an innovative program seeking to crowdsource funding and habitat for the beloved species at an unprecedented scale and pace.
"The Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange is a market-based solution for restoring and conserving high-quality monarch habitat on America's private working lands," said David Wolfe, director of conservation strategy and habitat markets at Environmental Defense Fund. "We like to call it an 'Airbnb for butterflies' because it's the only program of its kind that can open the vast untapped potential of large-scale farms and ranches to make habitat available for monarchs, fast."
Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0
Dicamba—a drift-prone herbicide linked to millions of acres of off-target crop damage across in 17 states—destroys mostly everything in its path except the crops that are genetically engineered to resist it. It's so damaging that several states, including Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri have introduced temporary bans on the weedkiller.
There's now another reason to worry about the controversial chemical. It's particularly harmful to milkweed, the only host plant for the iconic and already at-risk monarch buttery.
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By Alicia Graef
While international efforts are underway to help keep dwindling populations of monarch butterflies from disappearing, scientists are raising concerns about how severe weather and a loss of forest habitat at their wintering grounds in Mexico are affecting them.
Every year, monarchs embark on an epic multigenerational migration that takes them thousands of miles from Canada and the U.S. in search of sites in California and Mexico. The fir trees in the southern regions offer the shelter and warmth they need to survive the winter.
Unfortunately, these vital forests in Mexico have been threatened by illegal logging and now storms have destroyed hundreds of acres of habitat, while severe weather is believed to have killed an estimated 6.2 million of these iconic butterflies.
"Since the forests provide the microclimate needed for butterflies to survive the winter, illegal logging must be eradicated and degraded areas need to be restored," Omar Vidal, CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Mexico, said. "This would help the monarch butterfly to better adapt to extreme climate events and also provide local communities with sustainable economic alternatives."
These fragile butterflies already face high mortality rates along their route from other threats that range from predators and parasites to a loss of habitat along their migration path. They travel north in the spring in search of milkweed plants—the only plant that monarchs lay eggs on and caterpillars eat. But these plants are being destroyed by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed on fields where genetically modified Roundup-ready corn and soy crops are grown.
Holding Monsanto Accountable for Growing Public Outcry Over the Dangers of Glyphosate - EcoWatch https://t.co/EboABDmPnQ @GMWatch @gmo917— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1471556108.0
According to the Xerces Society, in the 1990s, an estimated one billion monarchs made this migration, but over the past 15 years, they've lost millions of acres of habitat and the number of monarchs has steadily dropped by 80 percent or more by some estimates.
The good news is that these butterflies are not without advocates working to help them recover. Individuals are working in their gardens and communities to improve butterfly habitat. Conservation organizations are working on other measures, including seeking endangered species status for monarchs and working on habitat restoration.
Farmers Key to Bringing Monarch Butterflies Back From the Brink of Extinction https://t.co/lJIOFtgYut @globalactplan @foeeurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1455712520.0
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently announced more than $3 million in grants from its Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, which were matched for a total of $9 million, will be used to restore approximately 16,000 acres of key habitat to support monarchs' survival.
For more information about ways to get involved in efforts to save monarchs that include creating habitat or participating in citizen science projects, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Save the Monarch and the Monarch Joint Venture.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.