It’s not a connection many people might readily make—natural gas development and an increase in the number of monarch butterflies in the region. But for California University of Pennsylvania’s Supervisor of the Fish & Wildlife Program, Jose Taracido, the two have become inextricably linked. And he is happy to explain the importance behind the work that Range Resources is doing to repopulate southwestern Pennsylvania with pollinators like the monarch butterfly.
“It’s a huge thing that Range has come on board to help. Most companies won’t do it, but Range has jumped in with both feet. And I don’t know if they really even understand how much good they’re doing, and how much this work matters.”
Taracido, who also works closely with the nonprofit conservation group Pheasants Forever, is an expert on the migration habits of the monarch butterfly. He says people need to understand why their flight is so important. “More than two-thirds of the world’s food sources, crops worth hundreds of billions of dollars, depend on pollinating insects like the monarch butterfly. But since 1990, their population has declined by 90% in North America. Southwestern Pennsylvania is a really important area for breeding and population, it’s our butterflies that are migrating south to Mexico and pollinating crops. The habitats that Range is helping to bring back are critical to boosting their numbers.”
Taracido also makes it clear that the pollinator habitats Range is restoring were gone before Range started drilling. “These are not habitats that Range disturbed or took out. These habitats have declined because of modern day practices and living. Things like agriculture, housing development, herbicides, and even the invention of the brush hog —people want everything looking like a golf course. That’s the worst thing you can have actually, and a lot of the pollinator plants we need have been eradicated. Today, these plants are rare, and very expensive. And Range is helping to bring them back. It’s fantastic.”
Range Environmental Compliance Manager Jeremy Matinko works closely with Taracido on Habitat Enhancement projects. Matinko has an agricultural degree from Penn State, and also serves on the Washington County Farmland Preservation Board. Before joining Range, he worked for both the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Washington County Conservation District. He explains that the company’s increased focus on habitat enhancement germinated among a small group of employees. “A few years ago, we started talking about what else we could do to improve local communities. Many of us grew up here, now we’re raising families here, and we share a love of the outdoors—hunting, fishing, and conservation.”
In 2014, a partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation led to Range receiving the Corporation Conservation Award for the company’s habitat projects in Cross Creek County Park. The more recent collaboration with California University of Pennsylvania is part of Range’s ongoing Habitat Enhancement initiative.
“Different sites are treated with a different approach,” says Matinko. “Up until now, our primary efforts have been focused on final reclamation of sites no longer utilized by Range. However, we hope to expand our efforts to include post-drilling restoration, which would include sites that are still active.”
Taracido says he was initially caught off guard by the company’s willingness to support his efforts. “I wasn’t surprised that Range was willing to do something, but I was surprised at the extent to which the company has been willing to do it right. Many other companies might just plant a little bit of clover and call it a day. And that’s better than nothing! But Range’s attitude has always been—tell us what you want, what’s the best thing we can do to help pollinators in southwestern Pennsylvania, and we’ll do it. The planting that Range is doing is critical for the monarch butterfly population. It takes 40 stems of milkweed to get one monarch to Mexico. Range is planting thousands. And I don’t think people really understand the public benefit of that work.”
Recently, Matinko joined representatives from Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture at a State College gathering focused on conservation efforts across the state. Matinko was there to present information on Restoration Best Practices, and to explain how Range’s Habitat Enhancement program has taken shape. Taracido hopes they can continue to spread awareness, as he encourages others to follow in Range’s footsteps. “From homeowners who can manage to include a few milkweed plants in their garden, to companies like Range who are helping to plant acres of milkweed, we all need to be involved in this effort. It matters.”