In The State of the Monarch I discussed the decline in the monarch butterfly population over the last several years. The primary causes for this decline include Round-Up ready crops and America's obsession with mowing. The question that presents itself then is, "What do we do about it?"
A group of scientists including Lincoln Brower and the Xerces Society have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch butterfly as "threatened". This listing would afford the monarch protections under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These protections would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor and control the handling and capture of the monarch as well as its habitat.
I can understand the pursuit of these types of protections. These protections would certainly force the hand of the agribusiness industry. It would also complicate the ease for developers in their expansion of urban sprawl.
As someone who has been studying monarchs and enjoying their company for a couple decades, I see the issue a little differently. I see the decline of the monarch butterfly as two different issues.
The first issue relates to the Round-Up ready crops. I think there is a place for Round-up. I myself will be using it later this spring to try to get rid of a true invasive, Japanese Honeysuckle, which is over-running portions of the five-acre Butterfly Ridge site.
I do not think Round-Up's place is in our food supply. There is a growing body of evidence linking the application of Round-Up to desiccate wheat crops with the presence of Celiac Disease. As a child growing up in 60's and 70's I don't recall any of my friends having gluten intolerance issues. My older brother was allergic to wheat, but he was also allergic to pretty much everything other than sun and water. I think the first time I heard about Celiac Disease was in the early 2000's. Now, in 2015, there are days I think I am the only person who doesn't have gluten issues. Regardless of what Round-Up does to milkweed, it does not belong on our food crops. This is not an Endangered Species issue, it is a public health issue.
American's obsession with mowing, which destroys monarch habitat, is a combination of stress, boredom, and a misguided sense of cleanliness. On a billboard near my home in southeast Ohio is an advertisement for Cub Cadet and "mow therapy". I have trouble believing that riding a loud, exhaust-belching riding mower is more therapeutic than sitting in a lawn chair with an ice cold beer watching butterflies and hummingbirds flitting about a beautiful garden. It's too bad that our preferred method of reducing stress is to increase stress for the rest of God's creatures.
I drive past several large lawns on my way home from Columbus each day. I have passed by people "enjoying" their mow therapy during my commute. The expressions on their faces remind me of the faces I have seen at the casino slot machines in Arizona, blank, blind stares into nowhere, pulling the slot machine arm (or the steering wheel) like a pre-programmed robotic device. The passerby gets the sense that this therapy is not rooted in a spirit of enjoyment and release but rather one of boredom and anxiously awaiting the next NFL season.
The problem with the petition to list the monarch as a threatened species is that it throws the baby out with the bath water. The people who the petition will have the greatest negative impact on are the very people who love monarchs the most. Every week I talk to someone or read a Facebook post from someone who raised 10, 20, 74 monarchs in their yards last year and how they are planting more milkweed in the spring hoping to raise more butterflies this year.
Keep in mind, if this petition is accepted and becomes law, it will be illegal to hand raise monarchs in your yard. The petitioners have tried to account for this, asking for a special exception that would allow enthusiasts and schools to raise as many as 10 monarchs before being subject to federal law. This means that those 70-some monarchs that Sally Somebody in Someplace, Ohio carefully and lovingly protected to adulthood will be reduced to ten.
There is another special rule being requested that would grandfather in monarch conservation organizations and butterfly scientists so that they could continue to do their research. I reckon if Sally wanted to work to achieve the oversight and blessing of a certified monarch scientist she could continue to raise 70 butterflies. However, as someone who started a monarch research program from scratch can attest, getting that blessing and cooperation from the scientific community is a whole lot easier said than down.
I offer this suggestion. The resources that are being spent, and will be spent, on filing, researching, and enforcing this petition would be much better spent on convincing the mow therapist to reduce the area of his lawn by one-third, buying him a lawn chair and a beer cozy, and sitting with him watching butterflies in his new butterfly garden. I think a lot of people could easily be talked into this after they learned it doesn't have to cost a fortune or consume a ton of their time.
In the case of the monarch, I think education would go a whole lot farther than government strong arming. I think butterfly gardening classes would go farther than trying to strong arm agribusiness. I think billboards showing the beauty of butterflies and how you can have them in your own yard would go farther than lawn mower advertising.