It’s been a long summer of focusing on the monarch butterfly. I work for Illinois farmers and often find myself thinking, “I can’t believe I’m spending this much time thinking about one species… A butterfly that is actually a terrible pollinator – and one that doesn’t pollinate any food crops that are important for humans.” Yet there I was, going to meetings, hosting conference calls, looking at models and reading research. Trying to understand the Endangered Species Act and what the implications of a listing might mean for our farmer members.
The process has been bumpy. Lots of people are involved – and not necessarily the right people. The timeline is so quick that everyone is rushing to put things down on paper about how we’re all going to save the monarch. Single pieces of research are being used to create simplistic models about stems of milkweed. I left each meeting this summer worried about where this might go – always trying to think about unintended consequences.
The process is not over – remember we’re on this road for another 20 months or so. I think my greatest concern is – and has been – the process being used by our agencies to get us to June 2019. Illinois farmers (or me, on their behalf) have to be at the table for these discussions. Improving monarch populations will require two things:
– increasing and improving habitat (milkweed and wildflowers), and
– decreasing risk to monarchs (changing mowing and pesticide practices).
Both of those things will involve farmer participation (and farmers’ land) in order to see success. If you read recent research, there are expectations that half of the 1.6 billion stems of milkweed needed will need to come from agricultural land. Crop land. So yeah, I’m at the table participating in these discussions.
And I’ve got to be honest, I was frustrated. The rules are confusing and the Endangered Species Act is flawed. And I’m someone who has spent significant time on this issue. How are regular citizens and our farmer members supposed to understand this issue? So I had a bad taste in my mouth.
That’s when my husband’s family took our daughter to find monarch caterpillars on their newly planted patch of milkweed in the garden. They found three caterpillars and put them in a Tupperware container. We quickly took over their care, and it was a lot of work! The caterpillars doubled in size every night. They poop a lot and they eat a lot. That’s their job during that time. When they actually each spun their chrysalis, I was flabbergasted.
You see, I work for farmers, but most things I try to grow myself – outside of my children, thank goodness – don’t make it very far.
And yet there were three beautiful green chrysalis with the prettiest gold flecks. My daughter and I checked on them often, although I’m not sure a 2-year-old can really see what a feat it is to do what they do.
This morning the green chrysalis had turned dark and you could see orange beneath the paper thin shell. By this afternoon two new monarchs were flapping their wings and crawling around in a tiny container.
(Our third caterpillar has been a few days behind the other two at reaching each milestone).
My daughter was amazed. I was amazed. It is mind-blowing actually, to think about what those tiny caterpillars do by just eating milkweed for a few days.
I’m so glad we did this. Just look at the face on this brave girl!
So we named our new friends – Miles and Moana Monarch – and turned them loose in an area with plenty of nectar resources.
I’m sitting here writing this actually worrying about them on the monumental trek they’re about the make to the forests of Mexico.
So I get it. I do. Monarchs are special. And if we have an opportunity to save them, we should. But that simple statement isn’t really reflected by the Endangered Species Act and all of the hoopla around conservation databases and models and allocations of milkweed. How did we get so far down a road of paperwork and litigation over something that I think most people can agree on?
Hopefully there are opportunities in the near future to reform the Endangered Species Act and get us back to something that strikes a balance between protecting important species and protecting livelihoods.
More to come – thanks for reading. Goodnight!