The new year brings more challenges than ever to our environment. Fires, floods, development of pristine natural areas, species loss, pollinator decline – on and on it goes. Sometimes it can feel a bit paralyzing as we ask ourselves – “what can we do, how can we really make a difference?”
The answer is this – we can do a lot in our managed landscapes to improve the environment around us. It’s not mysterious and it’s not even that difficult – we simply have to landscape a little bit differently, incorporating the needs of the other species around us. We need to start connecting the ecological dots.
The Monarch butterfly is just one example of the power of connecting ecological dots. Ten years ago, if you asked an average homeowner “what does a Monarch caterpillar eat,” you would have been rewarded with a blank stare. Now, after significant media coverage about Monarch decline, many Americans understand that Monarch caterpillars eat milkweeds. Unfortunately, it often stops there – few people can name the host plants for other butterfly species, nor do they focus on planting those other species. But, milkweeds are “hot” and are being planted from coast to coast.
Last winter, the Monarch population that overwinters in Mexico took a big hit. Devastating winter storms killed millions of Monarchs – diminishing that population by an estimated 27 percent. Beyond scientific journals, even USA Today reported on the story. It seemed that 2017 would be a poor year for sighting Monarchs in our landscapes.
How odd then that so many of us on the East Coast saw a bumper crop of Monarchs over the summer and fall. More Monarchs than many of us had seen in a decade. What happened? It’s speculation at best, but the feverish planting of milkweeds may be playing a role in these happy observations – plant it and they will come. A greater awareness of the impact of pesticides, and a decrease in using them, may also be helping.
Protecting overwintering habitat in Mexico and parts of California are absolutely critical to saving Monarchs. Limiting pesticide and herbicide use in agricultural fields in the Midwest is also essential for migrating Monarchs. Support those efforts, make financial contributions to those causes, but also take action in the landscapes around you.
From urban gardens and suburban yards, agricultural fields and corporate parks to schools and places of worship – let’s start landscaping not just for Monarchs, but for the other species. A resolution for the new year – let’s start connecting the ecological dots…
For more information Monarchs, check out this EcoBeneficial interview with Dr. Karen Oberhauser of the Monarch Lab.
Happy new year from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!
Photo: Monarch on Butterfly Milkweed
Photo credit: Heather Holm, author of Pollinators of Native Plants (interview) and Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide (interview).