Monarch butterflies are declining at such a dramatic rate that it’s hard for scientists to keep up. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the butterfly population has been reduced by 95 percent in the last 15 years.
“We were hoping to see one or two monarchs this year. We didn’t see any,” teacher Allison Cole at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont, one of several Colorado schools where students have planted milkweed gardens, told The Denver Post.
The loss is due to huge swaths of crops across the country being sprayed with glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Specifically, it’s because so much of our agricultural crops are genetically modified to be Roundup Ready, which means they’re resistant to Roundup and as result, farmers continuously spray these herbicides, creating dead zones. And these dead zones kill milkweed, a plant that Monarch caterpillars must have in order to survive.
That’s where you can help. By planting milkweed in your garden you’re creating a habitat where Monarch butterflies can thrive. It’s all part of a new national strategy which calls for creating “milkweed havens” or highways where Monarchs can survive as they migrate 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico. Groups like Monarch Watch are working to plant milkweed. The group sent 600 milkweed plants to schools and nonprofits across Colorado this year.
“People are thinking, if we plant rows of milkweed along fields, highways or anywhere we can be planting, that will provide more stopover places,” Gina Glenne, a Fish and Wildlife Service botanist based in Grand Junction said to The Denver Post. “We think the butterflies were doing fairly well before the 1990s. But we don’t have the milkweed now because we spray these crops.”
President Obama has convened a group of experts to figure out how to save Monarch butterflies and other pollinators, namely honey bees. In June, the Obama Administration announced $8 million in funding for farmers and ranchers to establish safe habitats for honey bees who have also been hit hard by the onslaught of pesticide use.
Pollinators are extremely important because they pollenate 75 percent of our flowering plants and nearly 75 percent of our crops. Without pollinators we’d have fewer fruits, vegetables, and seeds like blueberries, squash, coffee, and chocolate. Not to mention how gorgeous these black and orange butterflies are to see as they float from plant to plant spreading the pollination love.
It’s just devastating that in one generation we’ve destroyed a habitat so much so that our pollinators can’t survive. But we can still protect these beauties by planting milkweed, avoiding the use of Roundup, and not buying any food that was grown with the use of Roundup. What’s more, we can educate ourselves on what’s really in our food by fighting for GMO labeling before it’s too late. Let’s fight for the Monarch butterfly and they’ll continue to inspire and feed us.
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Image: William Warby