Save the Monarchs

In the last twenty years, Monarch butterfly numbers have declined by roughly ninety percent in the US.

This is shocking considering how plentiful they once were.The Monarch is the most well-known butterfly and is a symbol of nature and beauty.The monarch is often used to teach young school children about the natural world.Their migration is one of nature’s greatest wonders.They fly up to three thousand miles to their overwintering area in Mexico in the fall.

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The monarchs that live west of the Rockies overwinter in California.The monarch also pollinates many native flowers. So why are their populations declining?One of the reasons is the new farming practices that decimate their caterpillar food source, milkweed.Before herbicide-tolerant crops, milkweed was able to grow on the edges of the crops.Now, most corn and soybean fields are drenched in herbicides.The milkweed doesn’t have a chance anymore.

Weather has been the cause of the very recent decline but the overall population drop is almost certainly due to habitat loss.Another challenge that the butterflies face is illegal logging at their overwintering sites in Mexico.The species depends on larger populations because of its large range. So what can we do?We need to step in and plant milkweed.Did you know that there are many species of milkweed?They don’t look “weedy” at all and are quite beautiful.

Just look up some pictures of them on the internet and you’ll know what I mean.Milkweeds are also native to the US.Plants grow well where they are native and benefit that environment. Planting more milkweeds and varieties of native flowers in highway corridors and right-of-ways would help Monarchs and other pollinators greatly.America has millions of miles of roadsides.

Having better roadside mowing practices and planting more habitat on our roadsides would make a big impact.Gardeners can help monarchs by planting milkweeds and beneficial nectar plants.They can include host plants for other species of butterflies too.We also need to utilize our parks and other public spaces.Butterfly gardens could be planted in these areas.We need to get milkweeds into more wildflower seed mixes.

That would have a big impact.Farmers can replace what they kill by planting milkweeds and other native plants on unused property space.For example, if there are areas in their fields where the drainage is poor they can use the space by planting Swamp Milkweed.This native plant tolerates soggier areas. The monarch is a good indicator of how the environment is doing.

When we help monarchs we are helping a lot of other species too.Milkweeds provide food for butterflies, bees, beetles, and many other insects which provide food for birds, amphibians, etc. The Monarch needs help; and it can’t be ignored.