Updated March 17th, 2016

South Riding, Virginia - The monarch butterfly is one of nature's most beautiful creatures, and although observing its whimsical flight pattern can evoke feelings of carefree happiness, there are some very serious concerns about this amazing insect's ability to survive in light of dwindling food supplies and diminishing natural habitats. In response to this threatening situation, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) along with Dominion Virginia Power recently entered into a collaboration with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservacy, Valley Land and the Native Plant Society in order to plant over 8,000 plants that have been identified as "pollinator friendly" at the Dale City Rest Area on I-95 North in the northern part of Virginia. 

This critical initiative has been launched as part of VDOT's Pollinator Habitat Program, a statewide effort to provide what are known as "way stations" for Monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects that have been identified as threatened species. Pollinators such as butterflies and bees play a vital role in the production of our food supply, as over 90% of all plants require a pollinator in order to set seeds and fruit. Pollinator populations have been steadily declining over the past couple of decades due to environmental factors such as urbanization, habitat loss and excessive use of pesticides, producing a damaging ripple effect in the fragile pollinator ecosystem. For example, colony collapse disorder, a natural phenomena that many researchers have attributed to these adverse environmental factors, has decimated America's bee population, with the EPA reporting that 42% of America's bee colonies collapsed in 2015 alone.

Highlights of the pollinator project in Dale City include a meadow restoration that covers about 15,000 square feet, along with two other plantings close to the rest area building that feature important pollinator-friendly plants such as milkweed, Purple Coneflower, bergamot, New York Ironweed, Black-eyed Susan, and Hoary Mountain Mint. Dominion Virginia Power supplied funding, volunteers and equipment for the project, and VDOT and the Loudoun Wildlife Conservacy directed the efforts by lending staff, logistics, equipment, and technical support to the initiative. Valley Land contributed mulch for use in the various project areas.

Plans to extend this effort statewide are under well under way, with three other pollinator sites already being seeded in southwestern Virginia. The initiative represents a commitment by the State of Virginia to preserve a vital component of the country's ecosystem, a move that will not only have a positive impact on our current generation, but will also serve to benefit future generations as well.

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