Gar­den­ers urged to cre­ate monarch habi­tat

The Progress-Index - At Home - - BUTTERFLY GARDEN - Dean Fosdick

One of the most widely rec­og­nized but­ter­flies in North Amer­ica, the monarch, is dis­ap­pear­ing fast. Most of that de­cline is blamed on chang­ing land use, but prop­erty own­ers can help shore up the pop­u­la­tion by set­ting aside monarch “way sta­tions” filled with milk­weed and other nec­tar-rich plants.

The ex­tent of the milk­weed-monarch habi­tat loss since 1996 is be­lieved to be an area roughly the size of Texas, said Orley (Chip) Tay­lor, an ecol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Kansas and found­ing di­rec­tor of Monarch Watch, an ed­u­ca­tion, con­ser­va­tion and re­search group.

“We’re not look­ing at ex­tinc­tion, but the mi­gra­tion could de­cline to the point at which re­cov­ery could take many years — if ever,” Tay­lor said.

In the 1990s, up to 1 bil­lion monar­chs made the flight each fall from the north­ern U.S. and Canada to the oyamel fir forests north of Mexico City, and more than 1 mil­lion over­win­tered in forested groves on the Cal­i­for­nia coast, ac­cord­ing to the Xerces So­ci­ety. “Now, re­searchers and citizen sci­en­tists es­ti­mate that only about 56.5 mil­lion monar­chs re­main, rep­re­sent­ing a de­cline of more than 80 per­cent from the 21-year av­er­age across North Amer­ica,” the con­ser­va­tion group said.

Any monarch re­cov­ery ef­fort will take a broad com­mit­ment be­yond just the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, Tay­lor said.

“The monarch mi­gra­tion will not be saved un­less there is both a bot­tom-up (citizen-driven) and top-down (gov­ern­ment) com­mit­ment to the restora­tion of habi­tats,” he said.

The most ef­fec­tive re­sponse is plant­ing monarch “way sta­tions” or habi­tats in non-crop ar­eas — on school grounds, along road­sides and rights of way, in parks, busi­nesses, residential ar­eas or other un­used sites, Tay­lor said. These plots can pro­vide the re­sources needed to pro­duce suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of monar­chs and sus­tain them dur­ing their mi­gra­tion.

Way sta­tions can be placed in or near ex­ist­ing gar­dens and should be at least 100 square feet in size. But­ter­flies and but­ter­fly plants need at least six hours of sun per day.

DEAN FOSDICK VIA AP

In this June 24, 2010 photo, a swal­low­tail but­ter­fly gath­ers pollen and nec­tar from milk­weed near New Mar­ket, Va. Monarch way sta­tions pro­vide nec­tar for adults and host plants for their lar­vae.

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