Professor helps to promote healthy environment

Madelyn Loellke, Staff Reporter

Biology professor Paul Switzer is bringing a new eco-awareness movement to campus that will help the environment as well as the butterfly population.

The movement is called the “Urban Butterfly Initiative” and Switzer said he learned about it after taking a trip to India last year and said the initiative is a community service project that is helping make urban green spaces more “ecologically-functional.” 

In other words, it focuses on creating habitats that serve a function for nature, rather than simply being green. 

He said instead of planting non-native turf grass everywhere, which requires a lot of maintenance and serves very little purpose for the environment, it is possible to create beautiful, native landscapes that help the environment.

He said after seeing its effectiveness in its pilot projects over in the state of Andhra Pradesh, he could not help but think about bringing the idea back across the world to Eastern, and as a professor he wanted to get his students involved.

“I love bugs, I love plants, I love teaching and I love science. The Urban Butterfly Initiative seemed like a great way to combine all of those into something that could benefit the community and nature,” Switzer said.

He said the initiative focuses on butterflies too because they are beautiful, harmless, approachable, easy to identify and provide a great connection to the rest of the environment.

“If you want the pretty adult butterflies, you need to provide the right plants for them and for their caterpillars, avoid using pesticides, and so on,” he said. “We aren’t just creating butterfly gardens, we’re changing our cities into butterfly cities by integrating butterfly habitat throughout cities. Hopefully, getting people to notice and care about butterflies will help them care about nature more broadly … everybody loves butterflies.”

Switzer said he believes Urban Butterfly was designed to be a simple but easy way for people of all availabilities to become involved and create an opportunity for studies.

Even on Eastern’s campus, particularly the garden in the Library Quad and at Lake Charleston, there have already been 36 different types of butterflies spotted — a success that has Switzer and all of the participants quite excited over their rapid growth, he said.

“I expected it to grow, but it’s grown much faster than I had thought it would right off the bat. But that speed is energizing and I love keeping the momentum,” he said. 

Some of that growth was also because of good timing. 

“The city of Charleston has been doing great things out at Lake Charleston the past few years, and they were willing to let (the Urban Butterfly Initiative) be a part of that project and bring the idea into the city itself,” he said.

Switzer also said the communal teamwork was paramount to the success and thanked all the partners including EIU Earth Wise, the City of Charleston, Fox Ridge Foundation and the staff at Fox Ridge State Park and the Charleston Library. 

“All these people and groups have been really supportive and fantastic to work with. It’s been fun to experience everyone’s willingness to take a chance and try something different in our community,” he said. 

For the rest of 2018, those involved in the initiative will be planting seeds in many of the sites, so those seeds can sprout next spring and start becoming a new habitat. 

They will also be focused on removing invasive species in the woodland at the library and in 2019, Switzer said they hope to continue developing their current projects and also planning new areas.  Those areas include looking into creating some habitat on campus and looking for more opportunities to involve students. 

“Ultimately, I hope people start placing an extremely high value on a healthy environment,” Switzer said.

Madelyn Loellke can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]