The Plight of the Monarch

 

Many of the insect species we depend on for pollination, pest control, and recycling activities are also casualties (although unintended) of the systems we have put in place to provide food for our growing population. The monarch butterfly is emblematic of the broader challenges we face as land stewards and protectors of the environment.

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NCAT Western is partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to establish native plants and milkweed to encourage monarchs along their yearly migration. The monarchs of North America divided into two major populations, the Eastern and Western, which are separated by the Rocky Mountains. For this project, we are focusing on the Western monarch which has suffered slightly greater losses than its Eastern cousin.  Given that habitat destruction is one of the leading causes of the 95% drop in monarch numbers over the past thirty years, this project brings farmers and land managers into the fold to address the challenge head-on.

Together with several California farmers, we are working to plant hedgerows and fields of diverse native annuals and perennials. The addition of milkweed is one of the keys to creating habitat for our western monarchs. Milkweed itself serves primarily as a nursery and food source for the monarch caterpillar. The plant contains a chemical cocktail which when ingested by the caterpillar, makes it unpleasant to would-be predators. In addition to milkweed, adult butterflies also require alternative nectar sources in order to round out a healthy diet.

If you would like to learn more about hedgerows and the funding sources available to establish them on your farm, please contact NCAT’s Western office at 530-792-7338. EDF has also created a resource called: Monarch Butterfly Habitat Creation in California, which does a great job of laying out the current status and challenges facing the monarch as well as what we can do to help their cause.

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