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Butterflies

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Rosalynn Carter turns 95 Thursday, and her birthday is being marked with butterflies. A friend says the wife of former President Jimmy Carter has a fascination with butterflies dating back to her childhood in Plains, Georgia. That interest led to the formation of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, which was established after the former first lady grew concerned about the future of butterflies. The Carters made a rare public appearance last Saturday in Plains at the dedication of a new butterfly sculpture. And the butterfly trail is using her birthday to promote an annual count of butterflies in Georgia planned for Friday and Saturday. Rosalynn Carter is the second-oldest U.S. first lady ever.

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Conservationists suing to block a geothermal power plant in Nevada where an endangered toad lives are seeking U.S. protection for a rare Nevada butterfly near another geothermal project the developer plans near the Oregon line. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service last week to list the bleached sandhill skipper under the Endangered Species Act. It says the project the government approved last year 250 miles north of Reno could ultimately lead to the extinction of the 2-inch-long butterfly with golden-orange wings. The center and a Nevada tribe have been in a court battle with Ormat Nevada since December over its other plant planned 100 miles east of Reno.

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The monarch butterfly was categorized by scientists last week as endangered. Populations of the iconic orange-and-black butterfly have plummeted over recent decades because of habitat loss, pesticides and herbicides, and climate change. What can home gardeners do to help the monarch? The first thing is planting milkweed. It's the only plant on which monarchs lay eggs and which monarch caterpillars eat. Choose the right milkweed for your region. The National Wildlife Federation has an online database to help select plants native to your region. Adult monarchs need other kinds of plants too, specifically ones with nectar-bearing flowers. Avoid pesticides and herbicides, even ones labeled natural or organic. And consider setting up a butterfly puddling station with water and a warm rock.

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Monarch butterflies are now listed as endangered because of fast dwindling populations in North America. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature announced the designation on Thursday for the orange-and-black butterflies. The group estimates that populations have declined between 22% and 72% over a decade. After wintering in central Mexico, the butterflies migrate north to Canada. They breed new generations along the way that begin the return trip at the end of summer. The butterflies are imperiled by loss of habitat and increased use of herbicides and pesticides for agriculture, as well as climate change.

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Butterflies are pollinators, but there’s just something about these pretty insects that enchant gardeners and others alike. For some, the butterfly’s life span represents a transformation.

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