OK it’s not officially endangered yet, but Monarch Butterfly populations are down over 90%. On the 26th of August 2014 The Center for Biological Diversity, The Center for Food Safety, The Xerces Society, and Dr. Lincoln Brower petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to add the Monarch Butterfly to the Endangered Species list. Quoting from that petition,
“A primary threat to the monarch is the drastic loss of milkweed caused by increased and later-season use of the herbicide glyphosate in conjunction with widespread planting of genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant corn and soybean in the Corn Belt region of the United States and planting of genetically-engineered cotton in California. In the Midwest, nearly ubiquitous adoption of, glyphosate-resistant “Roundup Ready” corn and soy beans has caused a precipitous decline of common milkweed, and thus of Monarchs, which lay their eggs only on milkweeds. The majority of the world’s monarchs originate in the Corn Belt region of the United States where milkweed loss has been severe, and the threat that this habitat loss poses to the resiliency, redundancy, and representation of the monarch cannot be overstated.”
“Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996 and Roundup Ready corn in 1998. Genetically-engineered herbicide resistant varieties (nearly all Roundup Ready) now compromise 94% of soybeans and 89% of all corn grown in the United States. Glyphosate is not only being applied to vastly more acres than ever before, it is being applied more intensively to the acres that are treated with it. Between 1995, the year before Roundup Ready soybeans were introduced, and 2013 total glyphosate use on corn and soy beans rose from 10 million to 204 million pounds per year. A 20% increase. Roundup Ready crops have also shifted the application periods later into the growing season when milkweed is more susceptible to glyphosate.”
We must act now before it is too late, but what can we do to help?
1. Choose Organic Food
Organic standards prohibit the use of genetically modified plants and chemical herbicides such as glyphosate.
2. Avoid Using Chemicals in Your Yard and Garden
Roundup does seem to be the greatest threat to the Monarch Butterfly population, but not the only threat. A class of pesticides 10,000 times more powerful than DDT,called Neonicotinoids, has also been linked to butterfly deaths. You may be like me and don’t spray chemicals so you feel your garden is safe. However keeping Neonics out of your back yard isn’t as simple as that. Many nursery plants and seed are treated with neonics so ask your nursery or garden center, when purchasing plants and potting soil, if they were treated with neonicotinoids.
If you must use a commercial product avoid those with neonics. Also known as imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, clothlanidin, and thlamethoxam; so check the labels. Neonics are manufactured by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dow. However, I urge you to use homemade solutions and bio-controls like ladybugs, instead of toxic chemicals to control garden pests.
3. Plant an Organic Butterfly Garden
Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs and the only plant the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar will eat. You can replace some of the native milkweed by planting it in your garden. Monarch Joint Venture has created a fact sheet to help you identify the types of milkweed that are native to your area. I was really surprised at the variety of milkweed there is and how pretty some of the plants are.
The Xerces Society provides a milkweed seed finder by state and type.
It is good to provide a combination of adult nectar sources as well as larval host plants; this means flowers. Regular readers may recall I suggested planting flowers in your vegetable and herb gardens to provide cut flowers for the table. Of course another, more direct benefit, to your garden is they attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. BEE POST LINK Choose a variety of plants that flower at different times so you can “stagger the blooms” and have something blooming at all times.
It’s good to mix up the shapes and colors too, while still planting in groupings. Masses of one plant make it easier for the pollinators to locate them, so attractive groupings benefit everyone. Master Impressionist painter Claude Monet had what he called paint box gardens. It was a series of garden beds about two feet by six feet each planted with a different color; a child’s watercolor box makes a good template. I’ve played with this idea both using only color as guide and mixing flowers and planting a mass of one plant in one color. It depends on how wild or cultivated you want your garden to look, but the later method works very well for a butterfly garden. You could find nectar plants in various colors and do a butterfly paint box garden.
4. Spread the Word
Call for an end to the use of Monsanto’s Roundup in urban areas, on our lawns, roadways, school yards and parks.Call and write your mayor, city council, state representatives. Talk to your neighbors. Bring it up in a PTA meeting. Share this blog. Carry fact sheets with you to the store and enlighten others in the pesticide / herbicide aisles. Please take whatever small step you are comfortable with.
Here is a roster of the U.S. Senate where you can look up the contact information for your representative by state.
There are also many helpful resources here on the Xerces Society website.
Please share this information with your neighbors and local community.