By Elizabeth Perry
Most code enforcement officers penalize homeowners for growing yards full of “weeds,” but Crafton’s Season Ciechanowski, code enforcement officer and native plant expert, knows better.
Ciechanowski, who was integral in creating the butterfly garden in Crafton’s traffic circle, encourages residents to grow plants that help pollinating species like the monarch butterfly survive.
“All of these food webs are collapsing. The monarch is just one of many species facing extinction,” Ciechanowski said.
Ciechanowski said the “way ahead” in the fight against climate change is to grow native plants, and she provides Crafton residents packets on how to stay within code while promoting pollinators.
The monarch butterfly migrates almost 3,000 miles between Mexico and Canada, pollinating flowers across the continent. The population of this type of butterfly has declined by 80% over the past 30 years, landing the creatures on the endangered species list in 2022. This loss could be catastrophic to the food supply.
Climate change, deforestation and herbicide use have decimated the monarch population, but local leaders in Carnegie, McKees Rocks and Crafton are trying to address the national environmental crisis by making their boroughs more hospitable to the butterflies.
Some local leaders have taken the Mayors’ Monarch Butterfly Pledge through the National Wildlife Federation, while others have been doing the work through other organizations like Monarch Watch or independently.
Crafton Mayor Coletta Perry said she was not personally involved in the mayors’ pledge, but the borough has a certified butterfly garden and does other things, like employing Ciechanowski, to promote pollinating species.
“We have a couple people who are very passionate about it,” Perry said.
Mary Luxbacher, chair of the Crafton Park and Shade Tree Commission, was also instrumental in helping to create a butterfly garden in the Crafton traffic circle.
“She is such a tireless hero for Crafton,” Ciechanowski said of Luxbacher.
Luxbacher said the Shade Tree Commission is looking into creating another butterfly garden at Crafton Park on Steuben Street. There are three places in Crafton which are certified butterfly havens through the organization Monarch Watch, including Ciechanowski’s own yard and the traffic circle.
“Ours is a certified butterfly garden. You’d be amazed at the birds in there. It really has become a little heaven,” Luxbacher said.
Residents who visit are encouraged to take milkweed pods with them to plant at their own homes. The garden was planted with an eye toward helping many pollinators thrive, not just monarch butterflies. Crafton also has a Tree City USA designation, and they have taken to planting fruit trees. Luxbacher said 95% of the fruit grown is donated to the local food bank.
“We’re not shouting it out all the time but Crafton has tried really hard to keep all the pollinators and animals having a good time,” Luxbacher said.
Carnegie Borough held its third annual butterfly festival during the farmers market on Aug. 20 as part of the Mayor’s Monarch Butterfly Pledge.
“I think it’s just a way to illustrate Carnegie’s commitment to environmentalism,” Mayor Stacie Riley said.
Carnegie’s Shade Tree Commission has done a great deal to make the region habitable for butterflies; according to a proclamation issued by the mayor in 2022 the commission has planted hundreds of milkweed plants across the borough, and have handed out the seeds to residents.
The borough has stated a commitment to changing ordinances in order to make sure herbicides, insecticides, and other chemicals aren’t damaging to pollinators. They’ve also taken pains to remove milkweed from the list of noxious plants, changed mowing ordinances, reduced light pollution and overall pledged to include monarch butterfly conservation into the borough’s master plan.
In 2022, Carnegie was recognized as a “Monarch Champion” by the National Wildlife Federation for the efforts being made there.
The Mayor of McKees Rocks is also attempting to promote monarch butterflies through the efforts of the McKees Rocks Women’s Alliance. Mayor David Flick said his wife, MarySue Flick introduced him to the pledge, and as avid gardeners, it resonated with him. The couple started at home, and have transformed their yard into a haven for butterflies.
“We’re watching butterflies get hatched in our front yard,” Flick said.
Flick said planters around the borough are being filled with pollinator plants that encourage monarch butterfly proliferation. The Women’s Alliance members also give out seed bombs at different events and have planted wildflowers around the borough.
“We redid the garden in Rangers Field. I have distributed seed bombs and packages. Those are going out whenever we get a chance,” Flick said.
Flick said he has an eye toward the next five years in what they’re doing to help monarch butterflies thrive, because the situation is dire.
“California’s looking at losing about 90% of their pollinators. That’s a recipe for disaster for all of us,” Flick said.
In Coraopolis, Mayor Michael Dixon had not been aware of the butterfly pledge but was interested in learning more. Council member and Shade Tree Commissioner Ed Pitassi said Coraopolis had looked into putting butterfly gardens at the library, but funding fell through because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the project was shelved.
“We always thought the library would be perfect,” Pitassi said.
Pitassi hoped to continue working with TreeVitalize Pittsburgh to develop the project further.
Neville Green, an organization designed to promote environmentalism in the Neville area, is seeking more information about the issue, but at this time has no monarch butterfly conservation program, according to Dorothy Antonelli.
In October, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in Collier Township will be offering chances to learn about the phenomenon of North America’s annual monarch butterfly migration during Autumn in the Garden.
Activities include a tour of the Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow and Hillside Pollinator Garden to identify monarchs and their habitats. Visitors will also learn about the monarchs’ recent addition to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as an endangered species.
Autumn in the Garden is free with regular daily admission, every Sunday in October from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. This program is also included with daily admission.
For questions regarding timed tickets or about your visit, call (412) 444-4464 or email email@example.com.
The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is located at 799 Pinkerton Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15071.
Intern Sam Bigham and Sonja Reis contributed to this story.