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DOT Uses Flowers to Net Butterflies

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RALEIGH — The monarch butterfly is flying out of North Carolina. Scientists say growth and changing farming practices are pushing the insect out, but help is on the way from an unlikely ally.

When most people think of theNorth Carolina Department of Transportation, they probably think of orange cones, asphalt and traffic. The DOT does have a softer side.

The department just announced how it will help create a natural habitat for the popular monarch butterfly.

"They don't have the habitat that's necessary for their migration pattern," says Helen Landi, the DOT's highway beautification director. "They have to have this habitat. They have to have the milkweed to feed and to lay their eggs. So without that, they can't make the migration to the north and back for the winter."

The DOT plans to plant several varieties of butterfly-friendly milkweed in its roadside wildflower beds. It hopes to use the flower beds statewide, making North Carolina a better state for the monarch.

Landi says the DOT is not using money that would not be designated for planting, so it is not additional money that is being spent.

"It's money that is already designated for planting, and we're just using it in a more creative way," she says.

There is no guarantee the milkweed/wildflower program will work to bring the monarch butterfly back to North Carolina. If it does work, the DOT says everyone benefits.

"As my boss says, [the flowers are] the best solution to road rage he's ever seen," Landi says.

The DOT kicks off their butterfly program next week. A ceremony will be held Wednesday, August 23 at a wildflower bed along I-40 in Johnston County.