One of my many travel dreams has been to visit central Mexico where the monarch butterflies migrate. Seeing their giant orange clusters overhead would be awe-inspiring, and it if I timed the trip around Halloween, it would also give me the opportunity to witness Día De Los Muertos in the many village cemeteries in that same region. It would be such a cultural and environmental treat to bear witness to these things.
So many travel dreams, so little time.
I had all but given up on this particular dream due to global climate change and other environmental disasters. The prevalent news in recent years about monarch butterflies has been that they’re fluttering towards extinction. It is upsetting to contemplate.
As we humans encroach on their habitat, there has been less milkweed for these butterflies to consume. Our overreliance on the weed killer called Roundup is destroying not only milkweed but a whole host of other native species, and it’s migrating into the food chain. (Please, please, PLEASE do not use Roundup! Ever!)
Then, add deforestation, roadside mowing, real estate development, and water diversion, and you present these creatures with some pretty insurmountable hurdles to fly over. And human-caused climate change, with its droughts, fires, and mega storms, has been a disaster for monarch populations as well.
But there is some moderately good news. For the past two years, the monarch numbers have been on the rise. The most recent count was 335,479 monarchs observed in the known overwintering sites in California and Arizona. That’s a stunning increase over the mere 2,000 counted two years ago. The next count was 250,000, which was exciting, but more than 335,000 is miraculous.
Unfortunately, monarch migration is still considered an endangered biological phenomenon. These recent counts, while encouraging, could be a minor blip in the statistics. These numbers can vary drastically from one year to the next. To maintain a stable population, we would need numbers to be in the low millions, preferably for ten years in a row.
There are ways we can help, though.
- Do not use Roundup or insecticides. (EVER!!!)
- Plant milkweed that is native to your area. Join me in purchasing seeds from Save Our Monarchs. They even provide ways to get free milkweed seeds from them, but if you can afford to pay, it will help their cause.
- Only buy FSC certified wood for your construction projects. Illegal logging in Mexico is destroying monarch habitat. Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council ensures that you’re not purchasing wood from these forests.
- Educate others about the plight of monarch butterflies.
- Volunteer for the Monarch Count here.
- Support all pollinators by joining the Xerces Society.
There’s still so much to do.
So, will I be taking the Mexican butterfly journey of my dreams anytime soon? Well… it’s complicated. I’m struggling with the concept.
Part of me thinks that if I ever want to see this migratory miracle, I should go now, because it probably won’t last much longer. (That’s also how I feel about seeing glaciers and islands that are barely above sea level.) It’s discouraging, feeling like you’re racing against a destruction clock to see the beauty of the natural world. But there is something to be said for bearing witness while one can. If that were all there was to it, it would lead me to think that I need to go sooner rather than later.
Tourism is one of the very things that is pushing these butterflies off the cliff. The oyamel forests of central Mexico get 150,000 visitors each year during monarch season. These people pollute. They trample the soil, they cause erosion and forest degradation. And more and more businesses are created to cater to that tourist trade, using up more resources and creating even more pollution. In our own special way, we are loving these butterflies to death.
So maybe I should set aside this dream permanently, for the sake of the butterflies. But then I won’t be able to blog about the experience and educate a wider audience. I don’t know. I’m so conflicted. Where should I draw the line? What do you think?
The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5