|Monarch in alfafa field|
Many have been reading in local newspapers reports on the sightings of monarch butterflies as they fly south by the millions to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. What I’m not seeing, however, is mention of the sad reality of the crisis monarchs are facing.
The trend of decreasing numbers of monarchs has been going on for decades. The reasons for this are largely the disappearing milkweed across the great American prairies due to loss of open prairies, the heavy use of herbicides, and genetically altered crops. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are virtually sterilized except for human food crops,” said Lincoln Brower, professor of biology at Sweet Brier College who has been studying monarchs for decades.
To compound this problem, in 2009 fierce storms ravaged the sanctuaries and, coupled with the problem of illegal logging, devastated the monarch population from 50-70 %. Now the smallest population on record is on the wing, flying south to the sanctuaries--and they must pass through Texas.
Unfortunately severe drought and wildfires there have torched much of the vegetation and flowers. According to Chip Taylor, Univ. of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch, “They’re going to be encountering a thousand miles of hell as they go through a nearly waterless, flowerless, nectarless landscape.”
Whether the butterflies will arrive in the sanctuaries with enough weight to survive the winter is a serious concern.
Milkweed is available at many local nurseries. This past year I’ve given away 10,000 free milkweed seeds. I’ll offer them again for spring planting. If anyone wants a free packet of milkweed seeds, contact me on my website or Facebook. Together, we can help the marvelous phenomenon of the monarch migration continue for future generations.