The majestic monarch butterfly is in desperate need of your help. Once a common sight in backyard gardens, the population of 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 U.S. are 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 chemical interventions wipe the plant out. 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 the rain. These massive chemical applications have not only created hard-to-kill superweeds and contaminated the food supply, but they're also annihilating the milkweed plants that monarch caterpillars need to munch on to survive and the host plant where they lay their eggs. In fact, monarchs are unaffected by a poisonous toxin in milkweed, one that makes the butterflies taste terrible to predators.
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Americans who are willing to turn a small patch of land into butterfly-friendly habitat can 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 full of milkweed plant seeds like butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), along with region-appropriate nectar plants, such as Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium prupureum) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in the East 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 Monarch Watch's 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 into 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 our 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 supporting illegally harvested wood from this 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.
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Published on: June 7, 2012
Updated on: August 20, 2012