Monarchs, Data, and Politics

The data is in.  And the monarch butterfly is on the rebound!  A perfect reason to stop all of this silliness about declaring it an endangered species.  A perfect reason to stop attacking the job creators at Monsanto.  The monarch is fine you environmentalists!  Crawl back in your holes and wait for the next crisis.

Expect this to be the rallying cry from agri-business in the coming year.  The monarch population this winter measured 4.01 hectares, nearly triple the previous year and quadruple the size of the record low population two years ago.  So, has the canary in coal mine regained consciousness?  Was all of this talk about endangered species a big tadoo over nothing?

Yes, the monarchs had a better year last year.  Am I prepared to call it a good year?  No, not when compared to the population data from the late 1990's.  While 4.01 hectares is an obvious improvement, it is still nothing to write home about when considering 15 years ago a good year would have been a population size of over 10 hectares in size.

A year or two ago, a collection of noteworthy scientists filed a petition to get the monarch declared as a threatened species.  Based on what?  Based on the 90% decline in population over the last twenty years.  And while the population decline is real, it is hard to justify that a species who's population still numbers in the tens of millions is a threatened.

To reinforce their efforts, these same scientists filed lawsuit against the US FIsh and Wildlife Service earlier this year when it appeared that the petition may not go their way.  Was it a pre-emptive attack, knowing that the population data for this winter was going to look stronger so we better attack while the species is still weak?  Perhaps.

Why list the monarch as threatened?  Seems to me that it was seen as the strongest tool in the box to fight agri-business and their tabernacle of Round-up Readiness.  Could Endangered Species Act protection save the monarch once and for all from the evil overlords of glycophosphate?  My hunch is, "No."  

One thing that is true in America is the reality of litigation.  Did we actually think that Monsanto would just hand over the keys to the combine without a fight?  If monarchs do receive ESA protection, there will be no protection until the legal system has taken its course, perhaps over the course of decades.

And what if protection is granted?  Do we actually, in our wildest cardiac glycoside-induced hallucinations think that the Monsantos of the world will cease and desist, go to jail, pay a bankruptcy-causing fine.  One thing that has been made crystal clear since 2008 is that corporate executives do not go to jail nor do they change their behavior.

So, if agri-business isn't going to be stopped by protecting the monarch butterfly, than who will be.  The answer is the very people who love the butterfly.  With every butterfly gardening class I teach and every butterfly walk I lead I meet somebody who raises monarchs.  And each of these wise elderly women, beautiful young ladies,and dedicated distinguished gentlemen will be going to jail if the monarch receives ESA protection because none of them can stop at just ten; raising only ten monarchs as the law limits.

Wouldn't a better use of our energy, not to mention money, be to create more wise elderly women, beautiful young ladies, and dedicated distinguished gentlemen to continue raising monarchs, planting milkweed, and letting the mower collect dust in the barn?  Afterall, the monarch population is up.  How did that happen?  Of course, weather more conducive to monarch success played a huge role but also did all of the Mom and Pop Jones' of the world replacing their petunias with milkweeds, their begonias with bergamot, and their mowers with butterfly enclosures.  

Which group is going to be more receptive of the monarch gospel, the Round-up cartel or Miss Mollee two houses down the street.  Yes, the news this year was good, but the canary is still on life support.  We cannot rely on a dysfunctional government or corporate players with too many skins in the game.  Each of us need to provide a breath and teach our neighbors to do the same.  This is an alter call.  What decision are you going to make?