August 2014 Publisher Letter
Two.That’s exactly how many monarch butterflies I’ve seen this year—one passing through my yard and one flying around restored milkweed at Park Avenue Beach, along Highland Park’s lakefront. Gardeners across the area report similarly sobering news. Where are the butterflies this year and what has happened to the monarch, our Illinois state insect?
According to a recent report by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC.org), migrating numbers of the orange and black beauties are down from 1 billion to a mere 33 million. Each year, monarchs migrate from their wintering grounds in the forests of Michoacán, Mexico, to their summer homes in the U.S. and Canada. Along the way, they need protective rest stops and areas rich with milkweed, the only place that they lay their eggs, and upon which the larvae feed.
Scientists attribute the decline to issues that include loss of food along the migration path, deforestation in Mexico, drought and the disappearance of milkweed habitat on Midwestern farms. The NRDC adds one more factor: rampant use of herbicides containing glyphosate, one of the main ingredients in Monsanto Roundup, to manage vegetation along U.S highways.
Herbicides, combined with mowing, have decimated milkweed. The NRDC is working with many states concerning their roadside management policies and plans to devise a strategy for nationwide planting of milkweed alongside roads to create a “butterfly highway”. We encourage you to check Switchboard.nrdc.org and search “monarch” for more information about how to get involved in this and other monarch-related programs.
Want to encourage monarchs and other pollinators in your yard? Plant native flowers! Yes, Asiatic lilies and exotic perennials are gorgeous to view, but they do nothing for birds, monarchs and other insects that are not attracted to these non-native plants. Monarch Watch (MonarchWatch.org) offers great how-to information for planting milkweed and setting up a butterfly garden. The Chicago Botanic Garden (ChicagoBotanic.org) has great ideas for planting pollinator strips and maintains a beautiful butterfly garden at their Glencoe location. A quick Google search will pull up tons of other local and national monarch resources.
Butterflies, especially monarchs, have come to symbolize transformation. What starts as a lowly, green-striped caterpillar enters a dull chrysalis, only to emerge and soar as an amazing, beautiful butterfly. And the butterfly on our cover this month symbolizes the transformative effect education has on our children. We hope you enjoy the special articles we present in this issue and that you are inspired to spread your own wings to fly a little higher. And while you’re at it, help the pollinators to keep flying, too.
Enjoy your August!
Jim Irwin and Peggy Malecki