To the editor:
Thanks to Charles McCollum for highlighting the magical experience of the migrating painted lady butterflies throughout Cache Valley (and all of Utah) in an article a couple of days ago. Hopefully more people will look up from their cell phones and other screens to witness this rare sight!
The article compared the painted lady butterflies to the monarch butterfly, and I appreciate my friend Todd Stout’s optimism about the monarch species and their resilience, as quoted in the article. Especially when you see one of the migrating generations of monarchs that has traveled more than 2,000 miles, with wings that are tattered and torn (sometimes chunks are missing!), still flying north to find new milkweed growth so they can lay eggs that will create 3-4 more generations over the summer.
It is also important to note that since 2014, the monarch has been under consideration for listing as an endangered species, with a decision pending this summer. The population has declined significantly since the 1980s — down roughly 90% east of the Rockies, and 99% west of the Rockies as of November 2018 counts. While there can be large swings in population year to year, the overall trend is in sharp decline, requiring action in order to preserve the species as we know it.
Milkweed is the only plant the monarch caterpillars can eat, and it has been decimated in the past 30 years. The primary loss of milkweed is due to us — we’ve created new highways, housing, and entertainment plazas that now stand where abundant milkweed stands once thrived. Fortunately, we can help replace milkweed habitats in our yards, places of employment, churches and public lands. Milkweed isn’t only for monarch caterpillars.
Once a monarch reaches adult stage, it relies on nectar from flowers (similar to bees and other pollinators) and needs those nectar producing flowers from May to October. Milkweed in flower draws a wide array of pollinators to fill this need well with its high-quality nectar.
Some wonder what the big deal is if we lose the monarchs. To me, not only are they my favorite, but they are our modern-day canary in a coal mine — a warning of what's happening to our environment. Spring migrating monarch sightings are hopeful for a recovery from last season’s Western Monarch Count crash, but there are still many obstacles in their path as they journey north through Utah and beyond this spring and summer.
Without milkweed and nectar-producing flowers — and without people like Ron Hellstern, Becky Yeager, Rose Greer and Todd; and organizations like Monarch Watch, Southwest Monarch Study, Xerces and many others — monarch migrations as we've known them are truly in peril.
Southwest Monarch Study