Monarch Butterfly Listed as Engangered - article by Doug Tallamy
This week the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the North American migratory populations of the monarch butterfly as an endangered species. Having declined 75%, 85%, or 95%, depending on which eastern population you are talking about, or over 99% if you are referring to the California monarch, the direction the most iconic butterfly in the world is heading is painfully clear. Monarchs are in trouble both in the north where they breed and in Mexico where they spend the winter months. The Monarch Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan Mexica, the only goldilocks forest in Central America that is not to hot and not too cold for overwintering monarchs, is and has been under attack by illegal logging and climate change for decades. Clearly, conservation efforts must be taken to protect this singular and essential forest if we are to save the monarch. But there is much we can do as we build Homegrown National Park in the U.S. and Canada to improve the monarch’s chances while it breeds here in the north.
LOSS OF HABITAT
What is hurting the monarch on our end of its epic migration? Same old, same old: loss of habitat, pesticides, and death by auto collision. By loss of habitat, I mean the loss of the milkweed species, the only plants on which monarch caterpillars can develop, and the loss of fall blooming plants such as asters and goldenrods that provide the nectar fuel needed by migrating monarchs as they fly from Canada to just north of Mexico City. Tens of thousands of miles of good milkweed habitat on the edges of our corn and soybean fields have been replaced by high status lawns. Our farms now look neat and manicured, but the tradeoff in ecological function has been disastrous for monarchs, native bees, and countless other insects that help run the world.
SO WHAT CAN HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARKERS DO TO HELP THE MONARCHS? LOTS!
1) STOP MOSQUITO FOGGING – START USING MOSQUITO DUNKS
We can fire our mosquito fogging person and reduce mosquito annoyance by using mosquito dunks or simply a well-positioned fan.
Moreover, Mosquito fogging has become a booming business in the U.S. Townships, municipalities, and private citizens throughout the east have been trying to control mosquito populations by fogging adult mosquitoes with industrial strength pyrethroids. Fogging companies claim this is benign because pyrethroids are a natural product (so is cyanide) and because they only kill mosquitoes. Utter nonsense! Fogging kills all of the insects it comes in contact with, including adult monarchs in flight (hundreds of dead monarchs recorded after a mosquito fogging event during migration 2 years ago), monarch caterpillars as they develop on milkweed that is fogged, and bees as they try to pollinate our flowering plants and countless natural enemies that keep insect populations in check . It is frustratingly ironic that mosquito fogging does not kill enough adult mosquitoes to actually control their populations. To control mosquitoes in the adult stage you have to kill 90% of the adults. Fogging kills between 10 and 50%, and so you have to fog again and again, ad infinitum. This is good for the mosquito fogging companies but deadly for the life around us. State mosquito agencies have long known that successful mosquito control programs target larvae, not adults.
2) PLANT MILKWEED PATCHES
We can plant milkweed patches wherever we have access to land in full sun. If not the front yard, surely there is space in the back we can allocate to a patch of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), or any of 30 other milkweed species commonly used by monarchs for reproduction across the country.
3) ENCOURAGE TOWNSHIPS TO REDUCE MOWING ALONG SLEEPY ROADSIDES
We can encourage our townships to reduce mowing along sleepy roadsides to all but one mower’s width and restore native plants vital to monarch reproduction and migration in the unmowed spaces (note: avoid doing this in medians and along major high-speed roadways. Insect mortality from auto collisions is high under these conditions). And by the way, no study has ever confirmed the urban legend that more animals are struck by cars when roadsides are not mown.
4) FARMERS ALLOW MILKWEEDS AND POLLINATOR STRIPS
We can lobby nearby farmers to allow milkweeds to return to cropland edges, and consider adding pollinator strips rich in milkweeds through the fields themselves.