Why 57 Million Monarchs Matter

In case you missed it in The New York Times, “This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.”

WOW! That’s pretty messed up. I mean, here are little creatures so amazing that they can make their way from Canada to Mexico, going through several generations along the way, all without a Google map! And yet they are dying in record numbers. Why? Well, like you and me, they need food and habitat.

Now let’s just say for argument’s sake that these incredible creatures’ imminent demise is not that big of a deal to you. I mean, it makes you sad, but…  Well, here’s more reason to care—the article goes on to explain that the same thing that is killing butterflies is also killing bees. And while that is also sad, here’s why it matters: no bees means no food—food for you and me. Yikes!

In the article, Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, is quoted as saying “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants.” He continues by saying, “that is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

So what can you do? Lots! First, plant milkweed. A few awesome people in Mar Vista, California, did just that and now monarchs use that green community as a resting place on their long journey.

Second, get rid of your grass and plant California natives in its place. “If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”

Third, stop using pesticides and insecticides. These are indiscriminate killers, and remember, we need bugs to help ensure that we have food.

And finally, plant native trees. The article goes on to explain the importance of native species to a local eco-system. “Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none.”

And there you have it. More milkweed, less turf, go organic and plant more native trees and plants. When we make our landscape choices with our ecosystem in mind rather than pure aesthetics, we just may be able to hang on to this incredible place we call home.

To learn how to replace your turf with native plants, sign up for TreePeople’s next free quarterly workshop on Native Plants and Turf Removal taking place on Saturday, December 7. Space is limited, so register today.

By Lisa Cahill

Lisa Cahill first began her work with TreePeople as a volunteer Citizen Forester. She currently serves on the board of directors for the reDiscover Center, continues to volunteer as a Citizen Forester, has been on the Mar Vista Green Garden Tour and serves on several green committees at her church and children's schools. She most enjoys working in the garden with her husband, watching her children and vegetables grow.