Monarch Butterflies Imperiled: No Joke!

A monarch perches on a sunflower in Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Courtesy  Tom KoernerUSFWS

A monarch perches on a sunflower in Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Courtesy Tom KoernerUSFWS

The Washington Post calls it a “monarch massacre.”  One billion, now down to 30 million. Our beloved monarch butterflies are proof that very little separates an endangered  species from extinction.  Do you care? Are you ready to take action?  Check out the ways you can help (scroll down)

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has just released a very grim statistic: “Since 1990, about 970 million [monarch butterflies] have vanished.”

Monarch Population-2015. Courtesy USFWS

Monarch Population-2015. Courtesy USFWS

The Washington Post story (Feb 10 2015)  notes,”Monarch butterflies [Danaus plexippus]  are a keystone species that once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions. They alighted from Mexico to Canada each spring on a trek that required six generations of the insect to complete. Afterward, young monarchs about the quarter of the weight of a dime, that know nothing about the flight pattern through the United States, not to mention Mexico, fly back, resting, birthing and dining on milkweed.”

What’s more beautiful  on a late summer day than seeing monarchs  “on the wing”  through your yard and community on their migration for a winter layover to the pine-oak forests on the border of Michoacàn and Mexico State — to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage site ?

Check out this 5-minute video of an expedition to the reserve

The culprit? Pesticides (and more)

Pesticides kill the monarch’s host plant —milkweed –the actual nursery and critical food source the monarch needs in its larval state. And pesticides are being used abundantly  on croplands, farms and in backyards  to eradicate milkweed and other weeds. But milkweed is NOT a weed–as far as monarchs are concerned. In 2011, a Washington Post story  noted that 100 million acres of milkweed has been eradicated from farmland.

There are other causes too, including loss of grasslands and illegal logging in the very mountains in Mexico where monarchs overwinter.

What to do ?

The Fish & Wildlife Service has just announced a partnership,  “…with the National Wildlife Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to engage Americans everywhere, from schools and community groups to corporations and governments, in protecting and restoring habitat. Together we can create oases for monarchs in communities across the country.” Read the announcement 

“Fish and Wildlife will chip in [about $3.2 million]  to plant milkweed seeds in refuges and other  areas it controls to create 200,000 acres of habitat along the Interstate 35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, where 50% of monarchs migrate. Fish and Wildlife will encourage other federal and state agencies to do the same on public lands and is working with the governments of Mexico and Canada to help restore the iconic butterfly…. We can save the monarch butterfly in North America, but only if we act quickly and together.”

We can do this! Six ways to save the monarch

Below are three of the six ways you can help (information courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation.). Go to their blog for more ideas. 

Monarch caterpillar Maddie List USFWS

Monarch caterpillar Maddie List USFWS

Plant Milkweed – You can help save the monarch personally by planting milkweed in your yard or garden. There are many milkweed species found in North America, so no matter where you live, there’s at least one species native to your area. You’ll be rewarded not only with he knowledge that you are making a difference, but by attracting monarchs to enjoy. (Get more info from the blog)

Don’t Use Pesticides – Monarchs are insects, and so spraying insecticides will kill them. Make the commitment to avoid spraying pesticides in your yard.

Create Monarch Habitat– NWF’s Garden for Wildlife program can teach you how to turn any outdoor space into a complete habitat for monarch. Just provide food, water, cover and places to raise young.  It all starts with what you plant and you can create a habitat garden. Entire communities are making the effort to create monarch habitat. Here’s a simple list of where to start:

  • backyard
  • your office
  • your church or place of worship
  • local schoolgrounds and college campuses
  • neighborhood and community gardens and parks
  • highway medians

Collin O’Mara CEO of the National Wildlife Federation is asking for your help: “If we all work together — individuals, communities, farmers, land managers, and local, state, and federal agencies — we can ensure that every American child has a chance to experience amazing monarchs in their backyards.”

Read other Green News Update stories on monarchs:

Green News Update: Monarch Migration Is On: Includes many resources. Features a one-hour NPR radio broadcast (Diane Rehm) with 3 experts on the decline of the monarchs and what needs to be done.

Green News Update: Monarchs on the Move Includes the trailer to the IMAX film “Flight of the Butterflies”

Very little separates an endangered  species from extinction.