News about monarch butterflies (possibly hopeful)

“The onslaught of chemical agriculture … is altering the entire food chain,” said Lincoln Brower, a research professor of biology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and one of the world’s top experts on the monarch. “I think the extraordinary, rapid decline of the monarch butterfly is the canary in the coal mine.”

That quote can be found in today’s LA Times in an article about a petition from over 100 scientists to the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The petitions asks the three heads of state to include discussions about ways to save the monarch in their upcoming NAFTA summit. Specifically, it suggests that both the United States and Canada better manage roadsides to protect and preserve native plants. Mexico is attempting to stop illegal logging in the forests the monarchs use for their winter roosts, but up north, along the migration route, more and more milkweed is disappearing all the time, especially now that farmers are growing corn that’s genetically modified to resist herbicides. This allows for increased use of herbicides, with the resulting destruction of the wildflowers, including the milkweed plants the monarchs need for their caterpillars. (For a description of the monarch’s life cycle and an explanation of its reliance on milkweed, see this blog post.

Read more about the monarch in previous posts on this blog and on the website of the World Wildlife Fund and Monarch Watch. WWF has also written an open letter to the three leaders, asking them to address this issue at their upcoming summit. And of course, you might consider emailing the White House about the issue. But do it quickly–the NAFTA summit is next week.

And of course, you can plant some lovely, carefree milkweed, like this orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)  in a sunny spot yourself. If you do, you’re almost sure to see monarchs in future summers. If they don’t go extinct.