The majestic monarch butterfly is in desperate need of your help. Once a common sighting in backyard gardens, the orange-and-black butterfly known for its long migration to its overwintering grounds in Mexico is now on the brink of collapse. Chemical farming practices, overdevelopment, climate change, and illegal logging are all blamed for the demise of the milkweed-dependent butterfly. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to help.
1. Eat Organic
Farmers have turned to genetically engineered crops at an explosive rate. Today, 94 percent of the soy and 72 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered to withstand heavy sprayings of herbicides, mainly glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Researchers at Iowa State University found that the heavy use of glyphosate has resulted in an 81 percent decrease in the monarch butterfly population. Traditionally, milkweed would rebound after farmers used cultivation to kill weeds, but it is being wiped out with chemical interventions. Organic agriculture bans the use of chemical pesticides, so every dollar you shift to organic helps save monarch butterflies.
2. Create a Monarch Waystation
According to the United States Geological Survey, use of glyphosate surged from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007. It’s so commonly used that it’s now being detected in rainwater. These massive chemical applications have not only created hard-to-kill superweeds and contaminated the food supply but are also annihilating the milkweed plants that monarch caterpillars need to munch on to survive. A poisonous toxin in milkweed, though harmless to monarchs, makes the butterflies taste terrible to predators.
Americans willing to turn a small patch of land into butterfly-friendly habitat have a lot of power in helping the monarchs bounce back. To make it really easy, Monarch Watch, a public education project out of the University of Kansas, is offering a Monarch Waystation Seed Kit [http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/seed_kit.html] full of milkweed plant seeds like butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), along with region-appropriate nectar plants, such as Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) for eastern gardens and blue sage (Salvia farinacea) and chia (Salvia columbariae) for gardens west of the Rockies. Monarch larvae will feast on milkweed leaves, but don’t worry—if you plant a few, there will be enough to go around and your plants will survive.
Whether you buy the Monarch Watch seed kits or create and maintain a butterfly habitat in your own yard, you’re eligible to register your Monarch Waystation and even purchase an official outdoor sign to raise awareness.
3. Don’t Buy In to Overdevelopment
According to Monarch Watch, housing developments, factories, and shopping centers are swallowing up habitats for monarchs and other wildlife at a rate of 6,000 acres a day—that’s 2.2 million acres a year, the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Instead of supporting businesses that promote sprawl, look to cities and your local downtown businesses before heading for big-box stores in suburbia.
4. Buy FSC-Certified Wood
Many migrating monarchs rely on overwintering grounds in Mexico, but illegal logging operations are wiping out critical butterfly habitat. While the Mexican government has set aside 217 square miles for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, there are things you can do, too, to avoid purchasing wood illegally harvested from butterfly habitat. When buying wooden furniture or flooring, look for the Forest Stewardship Certified seal. This means the lumber was taken in an ecologically responsible way. Better yet, look for used wood products whenever you can.
Photo: (cc) dave and rose/flickr