Local butterfly advocate receives state conservation award

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Butterfly advocate and conservation educator Karen Richardson recently received CFMs Conservation Educator of the Year award in Jefferson City for her work supporting the Monarch butterfly and educating the community about its importance in our ecosystem and its decimating numbers and natural habitat, milkweed. Pictured from left, are: Martin MacDonald, director of conservation for Bass Pro Shops, Richardson and Brandon Butler, executive director and editor of Conservation Federation Missouri (CFM). Contributed photo

Richardson recognized for her work supporting Monarch butterfly

Butterfly enthusiast and advocate Karen Richardson was recently honored in Jefferson City when she received the 2016 CFM’s Conservation Educator of the Year award for her work supporting the Monarch butterfly.

Richardson has given new flight to the winged creatures with her constant desire to educate the community, children, utility workers and those in conservation circles about the plight of the Monarch butterfly and its crucial role in the local food supply and ecosystem.

Monarch enthusiast and educator Karen Richardson shows children a butterfly chrysalis during a past Monarch presentation at the Cassville library. It takes about 10 days for the chrysalis to transform into a butterfly. Of all the butterflies she’s helped save and raise, the transformation is so mysterious, she’s only gotten to witness it once herself. Richardson also helps tag the winged wonders, so if found by villagers in Mexico, where the Monarchs migrate during the winter months, data can be sent to Monarch Watch, an advocacy and research group for the butterflies. Contributed photo

The butterflies have seen significant decimation in recent years due to major habitat loss of their primary food source and host plant — milkweed. Richardson’s work educating the community, tagging and saving butterflies, education and spreading awareness about the importance of conserving their habitat helped her earn the prestigious award.

“I am so humbled and overwhelmed,” Richardson said of receiving the award.

Richardson has worked and taught at Missouri Native Plant Society, Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF) and at Department of Natural Resource events. She has also participated in a variety of programs, clean-ups and small town community fairs for Earth Day, Stream Team, Leopold Foundation and the Joplin tornado recovery efforts. The Joplin focus recovery area provides naturescaping lectures and free tree and shrub seedings, plus native wildflowers for residents’ yards, promulgating conservation and education about wildlife habitat for the general public and promoting urban quality of life.

Richardson is a member of the Missouri Master Naturalist’s training course and volunteer chapter, and her community involvement naturally synced with state and federal conservation programs such as tallgrass prairie and Monarch pollinator conservation. She has volunteered time, research, recruited help and established Missouri native wildflower gardens. Richardson steps up to see the process of conservation education through and works to give ownership of the value of nature to teach and learn.

Richardson teaches in the field as well as the classroom. For Richardson, “the field” includes the rural roadsides, the glades of the Mark Twain National Forest, MPFs grasslands and the many pollinator gardens and Monarch Waystations she has established or maintained. She has partnered with peer educators from East Newton High School and Monett High School, seeking out milkweed plants along Lawrence and Newton County roads, and convinced road departments and electric companies to safeguard milkweed patch areas.

Road and utility employees eagerly obliged and checked back with conservation educators. Local social media caught onto the cause and Crowder College and local high school students took up the ongoing cause for Monarchs and pollinators.

Richardson’s 2016 classroom experiences are just as varied from Neosho National Fish Hatchery, Wildcat Glades Audubon Nature Center, several libraries in the Monett, Purdy and Cassville area and an abundance of school presentations addressing grade levels from preschool to high school. Richardson gives the conservation instruction with a trusted ease like a conversation from a good neighbor. She is a model teacher who knows the value of making learning fun and exploring the creative processes of our conservation-engaged audience.

For more information about Monarch butterflies, their habitat, or to reach Richardson for an interview or speaking event, people may call 678-641-6153 or 678-644-6318.

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