Save the Butterfly! 90 Percent Reduction in Monarch Butterflies Over Last Twenty Years | Monsanto’s RoundUp Again Cited

Apologies for lack of posting at this site! I have been trying to figure out whether to leave the book site static and blog elsewhere. For now, I will step up posting here. Thanks! – Cathryn, B-girl Guide

Monarch Butterfly Lenoir Preserve Nature Center Yonkers NY

Five or so years ago, I saw seven Monarch Butterflies in one month, two crossing the crazily hectic Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (a migration path?) but typically in greener settings. I always feel hopeful when I see a butterfly. If I am a little bit down, I invariably take it as a good sign. But we need their numbers to rebound for many reasons other than that they are so magical.

An article appeared this week in the New York Times about the great and alarming reduction in their numbers which has widely publicized (thankfully) but with no resolution as yet. And while there are a few contributing factors, it seems all roads often lead to Monsanto.

From the New York Times, For the Monarch Butterfly a Long Road Back

Less than 20 years ago, a billion butterflies from east of the Rocky Mountains reached the oyamel firs, and more than a million western monarchs migrated to the California coast to winter among its firs and eucalypts. Since then, the numbers have dropped by more than 90 percent, hitting a record low in Mexico last year after a three-year tailspin.

Bottom dot: Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico City

Source: New York Times

Preliminary counts of migrants this fall are encouraging. “But we’re definitely not out of the woods,” said Ms. [Dara] Satterfield [from Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia], who studies human effects on migratory behavior. “One good year doesn’t mean we’ve recovered the migration.”

To make matters worse, she and her graduate adviser, Sonia Altizer, a disease ecologist at Georgia, fear that well-meaning efforts by butterfly lovers may be contributing to the monarch’s plight.

In recent years amateur conservationists have sought to replenish drastic declines in milkweed, the only plant female monarchs lay eggs on. But the most widely available milkweed for planting, the scientists say, is an exotic species called tropical milkweed — not the native species with which the butterflies evolved. That may lead to unseasonal breeding, putting monarchs at higher risk of disease and reproductive failure.

Unlike most migrating species, monarch butterflies employ an improbable strategy that splits their round-trip migration between generations. So their life cycles must be intricately synchronized with those of the milkweed on which they lay their eggs.

Monarchs returning from Mexico reach the Southeast soon after native milkweeds appear in spring, producing the first of up to three generations that breed on new milkweed through summer. When the perennials start dying back in the fall, a final generation of butterflies typically emerges in a sexually immature state. Rather than reproduce when food is scarce and caterpillars might freeze, they fly to Mexico, to wait out the winter.

“The tiny creatures that engage in this big, beautiful migration have never seen the sites in Mexico before and somehow know where to go,” Ms. Satterfield said. “It’s incredible.”

But in the Midwest, which produces half of Mexico’s wintering monarchs, the scores of wild milkweed species among grasslands and farms are fast disappearing. Nearly 60 percent of native Midwestern milkweeds vanished between 1999 and 2009, the biologists Karen Oberhauser and John Pleasants reported in 2012 in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity. The loss coincided with increased applications of the weedkiller Roundup on expanded plantings of corn and soybeans genetically altered to tolerate the herbicide. Meanwhile, monarch reproduction in the Midwest dropped more than 80 percent, as did populations in Mexico.

With the loss of native milkweeds that die in the fall, monarchs are encountering tropical milkweeds that are still thriving.

“There’s this huge groundswell of people planting tropical milkweed, and we don’t know what it’s doing to the butterflies,” said Francis X. Villablanca, a biology professor at California Polytechnic University. “We’re all in a rush to figure it out.”

Dr. Altizer fears that when monarchs encounter lush foliage in the fall, they may become confused, start breeding and stop migrating.

“It’s sad, because people think planting milkweed will help,” she said. “But when milkweed is available during the winter, it changes the butterfly’s behavior.”

Butterfly enthusiasts shouldn’t feel bad for planting tropical milkweed, monarch researchers say. But they should cut the plants back in fall and winter. Or even better, replace them with natives. There are native plant societies across the country that can offer advice.

I had no idea there was a movement of sorts planting milkweed! Let’s get back the billion butterflies!!

March against Monsanto Washington Square Park 2013

From my other blog, Washington Square Park BlogMarch Against Monsanto, Washington Square May 30, 2013

And speaking of Monsanto, join Reverend Billy Talen on Thanksgiving at the corporation’s St. Louis headquarters (Thursday, November 27)for Organic Thanksgiving at Monsanto.

Top Photo: Don Sutherland

Bottom Photo: Cathryn

The Commercialization of Earth Day — “Saving” Our Environment and What We Can Do About It

Happy Earth Day?

I suppose it was inevitable that Earth Day, founded 42 years ago in 1970, would be co-opted. I stopped reading the countless emails from company after company I received this week exclaiming “Happy Earth Day!” and offering “free shipping!” “Save 10%!” or “40% off!”

On the one hand, we all want to celebrate the Earth. Yay! But on the other, we want to really celebrate it, not via meaningless hype from companies that throw a few words on their packaging and once a year set up a booth at an Earth Day Fair and yet everything else they do – from production, packaging and disposal – reeks of irresponsibility with profit before practice, irretrievably polluting our precious water, air and land.

With the environment such a hot topic and a marketers’ dream to boot, how do we discern what’s real and what’s “green washing“? Even newer, small companies on the scene boasting “organic” “sustainable” “local” can start to appear less about being authentic and more about jumping on a trend.

How Earth Day Began and What It Meant

The roots of all this began over 40 years ago. On the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day in 2010, author, activist and professor Brian Tokar wrote a piece for the Indypendent, “Reclaiming Earth Day — With Climate Chaos on the Horizon, the Environmental Movement needs Traction” reflecting on its origins:

While environmental awareness has seeped into mainstream U.S. society since the 1970s — the era when 20 million people hit the streets on Earth Day to demand action — the structures of power remain largely the same. The mass mobilizations around the original Earth Day helped spur then-President Richard Nixon to sign a series of ambitious environmental laws that helped to clean contaminated waterways, save the bald eagle from the ravages of pesticides and began to clear the air, which in the early 1960s was so polluted that people were passing out all over our cities. Most environmental victories since then have benefited from those changes in the law, but more fundamental changes seem as distant as ever.

the original Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was initially a staged event. Politicians like Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) and Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-CA) took the lead in crafting the first Earth Day celebration that unexpectedly brought millions of people out around the country. The events, however, were supported by establishment institutions like the Conservation Foundation, a corporate think-tank founded by Laurance Rockefeller in 1948. Nixon even began the year with a presidential proclamation saying that the 1970s would be the “environmental decade.”

To everyone’s surprise, Earth Day turned out to be the largest outpouring of public sentiment on any political issue to date. It drew public attention to environmentalism as a social movement in its own right. And it set the stage to pressure Congress to pass 15 major national environmental laws over a 10-year period and establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition to the formation of the EPA, in the early 70s, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act were all passed. 

Promise Unfulfilled?

It’s a great history, and yet, with all the uber-focus on the environment currently, it still has not lived up to its promise. Continue reading