Letter from Publisher
I want to give a shout out to local photographer Adriana Fernandez for this month’s incredible cover photo, which she took at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, in Michoacán, Mexico. Adriana is a social scientist and former Monarch Coordinator at the Field Museum’s A Monarch’s View of the City research project.
With spring now here, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) have started their multigenerational migration from the overwintering forests in the reserve near Mexico City, through the southeastern U.S. and to our temperate zones for the summer. All along their journey, monarchs are vital pollinators for native plants and crops. But did you know that accumulating factors in the past 20 years have caused a steep decline in monarch populations, and the familiar butterfly we so know and take for granted could disappear in our lifetimes if active steps aren’t taken?
The Xerxes Society (Xerces.org) calls the rapid decrease of the monarch population an epic migration on the verge of collapse. “In the 1990s, nearly 700 million monarchs made the epic flight each fall; now only a fraction of the population remains, a decline of more than 80 percent has been seen in central Mexico and a decline of 74 percent has been seen in coastal California.”
From critical loss of habitat and food sources due to agriculture, development and mowing along our major roadways to pesticides, parasites, climate change, deforestation and other factors, monarch numbers—along with those of other native pollinators like bumblebees—have dropped at an alarming rate. The encouraging news is that since scientists know in real time that this is happening, actions can be taken and we can all get involved now to try to save the monarch from extinction. Here are a few ideas to help us get started right away.
If you’re one to roll up your sleeves, become a volunteer citizen scientist, working with organizations like the Xerxes Society and Monarch Watch (MonarchWatch.org) to help monitor local populations. If you’re politically inclined, work with the Sierra Club (SierraClub.org) or other environmental groups that affect policy, learn the issues and get the message to your government representatives. The website MonarchJointVenture.org has many resources for getting involved nationally and locally. Volunteer with the Field and Peggy Notebaert Nature museums, as well as other public and municipal institutions. Financial support is also needed.
Make your yard a butterfly oasis by adding native plantings to your yard, including Midwest species of milkweed (the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs). Many nurseries and online sources carry the plants, as well as butterfly weed and other nectar sources for adult monarchs. Don’t have a garden? Work with your park districts, schools, municipalities and even workplaces to create butterfly- and pollinator-friendly gardens that are pesticide-free.
Efforts are underway to create an Illinois monarch license plate that will help fund the planting of milkweed roadside habitat in Illinois. If enough people sign up at ILEnviro.org/monarch, the monarch plate decal will become a reality.
It’s not just one group or change that’s going to make a difference, it’s all of the initiatives and then some, together through their combined weight that will rescue our pollinators, and ultimately, ourselves. As my friend and colleague Mike Nowak states, “It’s time for the indivisible movement for monarchs, which, along with our other native pollinators, are in a lot more danger than we even realized.”
Happy Earth Month and Happy Spring!