“Where are all the monarchs, Dad?” This, from my 10-year-old son, while out for a walk this past summer. I had been somewhat wondering that same thing myself, because I hadn’t seen any monarchs lately, either, but I didn’t think too much more about it at the time. But I’ve recently read articles that spelled it out—monarch butterflies have declined 90% in the last twenty years. There are a number of culprits here. The most important, perhaps, is a drastic reduction in the number of milkweed plants in the United States, which are the monarchs’ sole food for portions of their lives. The decline of the milkweed, in turn, has been caused by an increase in the amount of land under cultivation, and the all-too-common use of Roundup and other herbicides on GMO crops. These are some of the same problems that are affecting honeybees (post: “Bees: Our Problems in Miniature“). Monarch butterflies are also losing habitat in central Mexico, where they over-winter, due to illegal logging. I won’t try to recount it all here, but here are a few good articles, in Newsweek, and National Geographic, and there are plenty of others online.
The bigger question, beyond what has caused this, is what we can do about it? A few things come to mind right away—
— Don’t put pesticides or herbicides on your lawn. Ever. This one is a no-brainer. (See posts “Leave it a Lawn” and “Leave it a Lawn Part Deux“). And if you happen to own other land or rural property, consider not mowing it every year. We humans might think that a short green lawn or freshly mown field looks good, but nature doesn’t necessarily agree.
— Buy some organic food. Or buy lots of organic food. (Post: “Not with Your Mouth Full“). The dollars we spend as consumers are often our most powerful tools, and if you don’t like the effects of industrial-scale agri-business and the pesticides and herbicides they use, then don’t support those companies with your food dollars. On the flip side, do support those farmers and growers who are farming in ways that are far gentler on the planet, or even restorative (post: “An Important Piece of the Puzzle“).
— Plant some milkweed. I just went out in the fields and gathered a whole bunch of milkweed seeds, and I’ll be planting them this spring, along with other wildflowers for the honeybees (and honeybees just happen to love milkweed nectar, too…). Seeds are available online, as well (and many are free). If you order seeds, though, make sure to get milkweed varieties that are native to your area and climate; there are about fifteen different types. And in the fall when the seeds pop out, give seeds to your friends and get them to plant them, too. When butterflies are adults, they eat nectar from flowers just like bees do, so flowers and flowering trees and bushes are also good choices.
— Lastly, consider donating to (or volunteering with) a group that is working to protect the monarchs. There are numerous conservation groups dedicated to this cause, such as Save Our Monarchs, the Monarch Butterfly Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund. These groups work to raise awareness, to plant milkweed plants, and to preserve other butterfly habitat, including the forests where they over-winter.
A nice little clip from PBS about the annual monarch migration–
So, I try to act, but I don’t often directly exhort others to. But, I’m going to make an exception today— DO SOMETHING. Be a part of slowing down our ongoing environmental destruction, in some way, in some fashion. Please. If not the monarch, pick some other area to get involved with, there’s no shortage. The world is changing quickly—if my 10-year-old is noticing change, then that should be a warning in and of itself.