The plight of the monarch

The plight of the monarch

Features - NATIVE tongue

Monarch butterflies are on their way to extinction, but horticulture can help.

July 14, 2021

© Suzanne D. Williams | Unsplash; © Chris Chow | Unsplash

Monarchs are the iconic American butterfly. Everyone can identify it. One of the first school lessons my son had was about the monarch. His pre-K class learned about the milkweed-monarch relationship while they watched the caterpillars grow and pupate. On the day the monarchs were released, the children donned their homemade wings and antennae and staged a monarch migration all around the school. The whole school watched. His brother did it a few years later. Those pre-K classes were staging the monarch migration years before my sons participated and they still perform the migration over 20 years later. I bet many of your children learned about monarch butterflies at an early age, too.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the monarch was a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act on December 15, 2020. To those of us that pay attention to the ongoing plight of the monarchs, both Eastern and Western, it was no surprise, and we welcomed the effort. The service’s decision was a result of an extensive review of the monarch, compiling and assessing the monarch’s current and future status. As a candidate under the Endangered Species Act, the monarch’s status will be reviewed annually until a listing decision is made. There are many endangered species candidates ahead of the monarch on the list.

In February 2021, The World Wildlife Fund–Mexico announced the results of the annual survey of monarch butterflies overwintering in central Mexico. The butterflies occupied an estimated 2.1 hectares (a little over 5 acres) of forest during the winter of 2020–21. This was a reduction of approximately 26% compared to the previous winter, when monarchs occupied 2.83 hectares. Scientists estimate that 6 hectares are necessary to sustain the population. Also, there was a 75% decline in the winter of 2019-2020 versus 2018-2019.

There are many national efforts underway to help keep the monarch from extinction. Any of the following organizations can provide more information than you will ever need to help.

Monarch Watch and the Monarch Waystation program

Carolina Native Nursery participates in the Waystation effort. As of April 5, 2021, there have been 32,534 Monarch Waystation habitats registered with Monarch Watch. From their website: “Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.” Monarch Watch was founded in 1992 by Dr. Orley "Chip" Taylor and the monarch tagging program was launched in the fall of that year.

“Monarch Watch strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. We engage in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration. We also promote protection of monarch habitats throughout North America.”

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Many organizations are working to help the monarch butterfly leave the endangered species list.

The Xerces Society

The Xerces Society is a science-based conservation organization, working with diverse partners that include scientists, land managers, educators, policymakers, farmers and communities. By utilizing applied research, engaging in advocacy, providing educational resources, addressing policy implications and building community, we endeavor to make meaningful long-term conservation a reality. The Xerces Society has information on the conservation of both the Eastern and Western monarch. Xerces is also the home of Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA. Is your town an affiliate? There are currently 133 Bee Cities and 117 Bee Campuses in 43 states. The Bee City program was founded in Asheville by Phyllis Stiles.

For more:

Sonia Altizer

Watch Sonia Altizer’s Ted Talk “What We Can Learn from the Migration of the Monarch Butterfly.”

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There are organizations everywhere working hard to help save the monarchs. If you do a quick search right now you will be amazed at what’s going on in your community. A quick search for the Asheville area yielded quite an impressive list of resources, press and general information of how to get involved, where to obtain milkweed, when and where to witness the migration and much more.

Monarchs need milkweed. Most of us grow plants. Consequently, we certainly are in a position to give aid. Plant a patch at your nursery – it beats mowing. Grow some and give it away. The elementary school closest to you will take it, I bet. There is probably more than one species of milkweed native to your area. If you plant it, they will come. It’s fun and can help save our wonderful monarch from extinction.

Bill Jones is president of Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, North Carolina, a specialty grower of native shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses.