NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is pausing a popular program aimed at helping butterflies, and it’s all due to overwhelming demand.
TDOT officials have officially paused Project Milkweed. The program works by handing out milkweed seeds to the community to create weigh stations for monarchs as they travel throughout the year. The reason for the pause is due to an overwhelming response from the public.
“We initially bought 25,000 packs of seeds thinking that would be really good,” said Mike McClanahan, the transportation manager for TDOT Highway Beautification.
The packets were gone in just two weeks.
“Then we went viral. After that, we’ve had orders of 771,000 of milkweed seed and we need to make sure we’re getting the seed out,” said McClanahan.
Both the monarch butterfly population and milkweed, which are vital to life, growing food, and the economy of Tennessee habitats, have experienced a 90% decline since 1992. The steady decrease in numbers makes efforts like Project Milkweed critical for restoration.
“There’s a variety of factors, everything from pests to habitat reduction, through development and use of herbicide,” said McClanahan. “Monarchs are not unique; they are absolutely declining as well, and in some cases at a higher rate.”
Helping to save the butterflies is a call to action the agency said community members have answered.
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“The 771,000 packs of milkweed seeds that we’re sending out, we think that’s going to have a positive impact and we’ll see that next year and as the monarchs come on their way north,” McClanahan said.
So far, 300,000 packs of seeds have been distributed and TDOT officials said they will send out the rest to those who requested the packets in the next few weeks. Project Milkweed will re-open in June of 2024.