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Seeking Guidance from Nature

An Interview with Colleen Cirillo, Environmental Educator and Butterflyway Project Lead, David Suzuki Foundation
Jana Pijak
February 20th, 2024
The Butterflyway Project is a citizen-led movement growing highways of habitat for bees and butterflies across Canada. In 2017, David Suzuki Foundation initiated the Butterflyway Project, and its sister L’effet Papillon in Quebec, in five Canadian cities. This volunteer-led movement brings nature home to neighbourhoods, one butterfly-friendly garden at a time. From inception to 2023, the foundation has trained 1,450 Butterflyway Rangers in hundreds of communities throughout Canada. Rangers then connected with neighbours to create habitat gardens in residential yards, school and corporate grounds, boulevards and parks. When 12 or more patches are established, a new Butterflyway is born.

Since its inception until now, The Butterfly Project has resulted in more than 106,300 native wildflowers and grasses planted, approximately 2,900 trees and shrubs planted, 7,200 habitat gardens established, 119 Butterflyways established (a Butterflyway is 12 or more habitat gardens in close proximity).

The Butterflyway Project is based on our Homegrown National Park Project, an award-winning initiative that created butterfly-friendly corridors in three Toronto neighbourhoods from 2013 to 2015. In 2020, the Butterflyway Project received the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Nature Inspiration Award. Project popularity surged in 2021, with 1,000 Canadians applying to become Butterflyway Rangers, and it has remained at that level ever since.

1. Tell us your name and about your role?

My name is Colleen Cirillo and I'm an Environmental Educator, Communicator, Researcher and Butterflyway Project Lead at David Suzuki Foundation.

2. What does innovation mean to you? How do you and your team generate new ideas?

I would say that innovation is about keeping an open mind and open heart, considering the ideas, perspectives and experiences of others. I also look to nature for guidance, as natural systems and cycles have so much to teach us.

3. How do you reset creativity when faced with roadblocks?

I keep true to those core values – nature-focused, open mind and heart. I also think it's important to take a break if necessary, to try another approach, to consult with others, and to keep your vision in mind.

4. Creating a Butterflyway involves collaboration and coordination among volunteers to establish habitat gardens. How does the David Suzuki Foundation support and facilitate communication and collaboration among Butterflyway Rangers, particularly in diverse communities across Canada?

David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) provides training and resources in diverse topics such as native pollinators and plants, habitat gardening, seed collection and starting, community outreach and municipal advocacy. We offer this in accessible ways – free, bilingual, and with a welcoming tone and language. We have created tools and offer services to assist Rangers with networking and with self-sufficiency, such as a Ranger-only Facebook page, a Ranger networking map and private Google Drive with free general and region-specific resources. We also offer virtual regional Ranger meetups and one-on-one meetings with staff.

5. The Butterflyway Project contributes to various environmental and social aspects, such as managing stormwater and fostering community connections. Can you elaborate on how these gardens serve as multifunctional spaces within urban environments?

Habitat gardens – at their best – mimic natural systems in many ways. They provide habitat for plant and animal species, including pollinators, slow-down stormwater runoff (especially if they include ponds or rain gardens), and store carbon (especially if woody plants are included and allowed to live for long periods of time). These habitat gardens have the added benefit of providing people with places to learn about and care for wild species.

6. Partnerships with organizations like Cascades have been crucial in supporting the Butterflyway Project. How do such partnerships enhance the project's reach and effectiveness in addressing the challenges faced by pollinators and native plants in Canada?

Cascades and other partners have been fundamental to the project’s long-term success. Besides providing core funding over many years, Cascades has promoted the project to staff and in the communities where they work. Some Cascades facilities have pollinator gardens, and some Cascades staff people are Rangers and or volunteers at DSF events.
References: davidsuzuki.org