The monarch migration is in trouble. According to available data, the size of the overwintering population has plummeted by 84% since 1996. Some scientists give the migration another 10 to 20 years of viability, unless all of us take action now to protect it. Here are some actions you can take:
- FEED THEM. If you live on the monarch migration route, plant milkweed and nectar plants. Monarchs need milkweed to lay their eggs on in the spring and flowers for food when they pass through in the fall. Research what kinds of plants are indigenous to your area. Give your lawn over to native wildflowers and weeds, or start a butterfly garden on top of your apartment building. (But make sure your plants and seeds weren’t treated with pesticides before you bought them!)
- STOP POISONING THEM. Avoid purchasing genetically modified foods. In order to do so, we need to continue to fight for accurate food labeling and consumers’ right to know. The use of the herbicides sprayed on GMO corn and soy crops correlates with the dramatic decline in monarch numbers. Buy organic, join a CSA or grow your own food.
- VISIT THEM. Come stay with us in Mexico. We are one of the only places where you can stay in a community located within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Until we opened our B&B in 2012, only outside operators benefited from butterfly tourism. Now we employ 12 people directly during the season, and 3-4 the rest of the year. Help us prove to our neighbors that our forest has more value intact than it does as contraband timber. Finally, coming to see the monarch colonies will allow you to experience viscerally why the migratory phenomenon is worth fighting for.
- PROTECT THEIR FORESTS. Support grassroots conservation efforts. We have started a small NGO with minimal overhead called Butterflies and Their People. Your donations go directly to paying local people to protect the forest and prevent illegal logging. If you do give to Big Green NGOs, demand accountability and transparency about where and how your dollars are spent. For example, if you donate to a reforestation project on the Butterfly Reserve, ask where are the trees planted, who is paid to plant them, and what the survival rates of these trees are one and two years after planting.
- BECOME A CITIZEN-SCIENTIST. If you live in the monarch flyway, participate in citizen science efforts to learn more about the monarch migration. Report your first of the year monarch sightings to Journey North. Let the Xerces Society know what plants you see monarchs nectaring on so they can expand their list of locally-appropriate wildflowers. Buy tags from Monarch Watch, and make sure to tell them when and where you tagged your monarchs.
- FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE. We are really feeling its effects here on the Butterfly Reserve, from freak winter storms to higher than usual temperatures. Climate change is an additional stressor among so many others that are putting the migration in jeopardy, and it could well be the last straw. Switch to solar power. Walk, ride your bike and take public transport whenever possible. And pressure your politicians to make reducing carbon emissions a top priority!
Of course monarchs aren’t the only life form struggling with the impact of climate change, toxic industrial agriculture and wide-scale habitat loss. Bees, bats and many bird species are also experiencing catastrophic population declines. Among these creatures, the monarch and its miraculous migration has been the most successful at attracting attention and resources. But know that this battle is bigger than one beloved butterfly species. Conservation efforts done in their name stand to save the ecosystems that all life depends upon.