About the Image (above): A female monarch butterfly (from Wikimedia Commons).
In the waning days of last summer (2017) I saw a monarch butterfly. It was the first I had seen in a great many years where I live near the Rocky Mountains. In Provocations #7, I ask are monarchs with us for just a relative moment longer? Are they headed the way of the great northern white rhinoceroses?
I seem to recall seeing many more of these remarkable beings twenty years ago when our children were young. Back then, our daughter even found a monarch chrysalis, and she “raised it” in a jar. When the butterfly emerged, she made sure the wings could fully unfold and harden, and then she released it. A profound and moving experience for her, for the whole family actually, and an instructive connection to the cycle of life as well.
Today, I have had so few sitings! Virtually none. So I did a little digging. Scientific studies show a clear and disturbing decline in monarch butterfly numbers (see figure). An 80% decline in the last decade alone. Experts have concluded that there may only be a couple more decades left for these beautiful animals, before they become extinct.
The reasons for this decline point to humankind as the culprit. At the top of the list are modern agricultural practices, which have witnessed the widespread adoption of herbicides that are used with genetically modified corn and soybeans in the United States. These destroy the principle summer habitat of the monarchs. Habitat loss (deforestation) in the wintering grounds in Mexico is another likely cause. One can only imagine how many end as roadkill, adorning the grills of myriad vehicles in the U.S. While verging into speculation, one might reasonably ask what climate change has in store for these animals.
So many challenges for such a delicate and exquisite creature. The world will be a much smaller and sadder place without monarchs in it.
What can you do?
There are things you can do to help. As always, the most effective tool you have is your pocket book and the personal choices you make. Drive less. Consume less. Demand labeling for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and do not buy foods or goods that contain GMOs. You can also grow some milkweed in your yard or garden (find seeds for your region here).
I once again go back to Wendell Berry, the fount of so much wisdom. The closing words in his March 2015 essay Farmland Without Farmers in The Atlantic were:
“We have an ancient and long-enduring cultural imperative of neighborly love and work. This becomes ever more important as hardly imaginable suffering is imposed upon all creatures by industrial tools and industrial weapons. If we are to continue, in our only world, with any hope of thriving in it, we will have to expect neighborly behavior of sciences, of industries, and of governments, just as we expect it of our citizens in their neighborhoods.”
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