Monarch Butterflies are endangered
Last updated 8/2/2022 at Noon
Headlines in conservation magazines, and even on newspapers have been crying: “Monarch butterflies on the verge of extinction!” And they are, all the way from Maine to California. Their populations have dropped over 90 percent in the West and up to 84 percent in the East.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, which recently added the Monarch to their Red List and designated it as “endangered,” three threats have caused the Monarch populations to decline: habitat loss, widespread use of agricultural chemicals, and climate change.
Milkweed is the key to survival of Monarch butterflies, and the move to list the Monarch as an endangered species will hopefully place protection on milkweeds. It is the only plant the caterpillars can eat.
Unfortunately, the agricultural community has been systematically destroying milkweed ever since the cattle industry discovered the plant sickens cows if they eat it. Now that same farming industry is killing even more milkweed with herbicides and by not allowing irrigation water to reach them, which guarantees the annihilation of the Monarch — everywhere.
Our Monarchs, found from the western side of the Rockies, spend winter congregating on the coast of California, several locations in Arizona and some join their eastern cousins in Mexico.
When the sun tells them spring has arrived, they head north to the first milkweed patch, lay eggs and eventually die. When that new bunch becomes adults they continue north to the next milkweed patch, lay eggs and eventually die. This process finally gets the Monarchs all the way to Canada and they spend summer reproducing in local milkweed patches until the sun tells them winter is coming.
At that point there is no more egg-laying in the monarch society. They put on fat instead, preparing themselves to fly south thousands of miles to where they will spend winter with their friends.
Throughout their lives, Monarchs need nectar from flowers to fuel their flight and milkweed to lay their eggs on. No other plant will do. Climate change is altering the seasonal availability of these Monarch necessities, as well as accelerating habitat loss through wildfires.
One of the finest Monarch conservation projects to take place in Central Oregon was the development of a wayside at the Sisters Middle School. “Journey’s Flight,” a book about the travels of a tagged Monarch that came from that wayside was written by the students of Susie Werts’ class and is well worth the read.
You, Dear Readers, can play a big part in helping this endangered species work to be successful. If you have a spot on your place that’s damp most of the year please start a colony of showy milkweed, or, if lacking the water, narrow-leaf milkweed. Then, to make a 100 percent success of that activity, plant a big pollinator garden, maybe where there was once a lawn or rock-pile. Not only will you hit a home run with milkweed you’ll have the bases loaded with the pollinator garden.
Locally, you can go to Winter Creek Nursery for our native milkweed plants (www.wintercreeknative.com) and Deschutes Land Trust for seeds (www.deschuteslandtrust.org). In addition, both the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org) and Monarch Joint Venture (www.monarchjointventure.org) have excellent information and ideas on how to save Monarchs.