Wisconsin prepared to help monarch butterflies

Rob Zimmer

Earlier this month, monarch researchers in Mexico, conducting an annual census of overwintering populations of monarchs, revealed disappointing news about monarch numbers this winter in season. The second-lowest number of monarchs ever recorded overwintering in the mountains of central Mexico was tallied this winter. That is a drop of nearly 60% from last winter.

While this news was somewhat expected due to the severe drought in the Midwest and plains last summer, the scope of this year‘s losses is heartbreaking, indeed. Especially for those who work so hard here in Wisconsin to help monarch numbers rebound.

It’s natural to have knee-jerk reactions to news like this. It is also important to remember that, here in Wisconsin, we did an amazing job getting monarchs ready for the migration. It is not necessary to make major changes.

Don’t let all the hype trigger you. You are going to see a lot of gloom and doom news now that this information has been released.

If we continue to do what we’ve done the last several years, the monarchs will be in good shape, at least here.

The trouble arises after they leave Wisconsin in the fall. The severe drought in Oklahoma and Texas last year meant that there were very few nectar sources available during that leg of the journey, which is often the toughest and the longest stretch.

Between drought in the southern plains and hurricanes in the western Gulf at the time of peak migration, as well as highway mortality in the southern states, these are the challenges each year. Of course, habitat destruction all along the way and including their high mountain forest overwintering areas, which have been continuously logged.

We don’t need to make drastic changes here, locally. Keep doing what you’re doing.

We do need, however, to stop being hypocrites. We cannot say that we want to help monarchs and, yet, at the same time, spray herbicides and insecticides all over our properties. You can’t have it both ways. I am aware of so many people who do this. Either you are on board, or you’re not.

So many of us claim to be monarch supporters, yet we don’t blink at spraying our yards for mosquitoes or spraying our plants with insecticides for other species such as Japanese beetles and rose chafers and boxelder bugs. Insecticides do not discriminate. They don’t know the difference between good bugs and bad bugs. You don’t get to have it both ways. Not anymore.

Continue to plant native plants. Not just milkweed, but nectar sources as well — especially late-season nectar sources for after Labor Day.

This means New England Aster and goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed and purple coneflower, as well as late-season annuals such as zinnias and cosmos and tall verbena and purple heliotrope. It is easy to find plenty of nectar sources for midsummer. It is after Labor Day where we still struggle.

Planting the specific plants listed above will provide these late-season nectar sources.

Also, learn to read between the lines and tread lightly when you see comments and suggestions and petitions and things to have the monarchs added to the endangered species list. There are many reasons why this is not a good thing. Unfortunately, all the hype stirs the passions of good-intentioned monarch lovers who don’t understand the consequences of what that designation could mean.

In the meantime, let’s hope for a season full of sunshine and moisture and milkweed and monarchs.

Rob Zimmer is a nature and garden author, public speaker and radio show host on WHBY. Readers can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.