Stanley takes action for declining butterflies

SARANAC LAKE – Marsha Stanley said reading the novel “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver last fall renewed her interest in something she had cared about since she was a child: Monarch butterflies.

The renewed interest caused Stanley to do some research on Monarchs. At about the same time, reports started showing up about the butterfly’s declining population.

One of those reports put out by the World Wildlife Fund documented a sharp decline in monarch populations this past winter.

“According to a survey carried out during the 2012-2013 winter season by the WWF-Telcel Alliance, and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas (CONAP), the nine hibernating colonies occupy a total area of 2.94 acres of forest – representing a 59 percent decrease from the 2011-2012 survey of 7.14 acres,” according to the World Wildlife Federation’s webite.

The site stated that was the lowest level in two decades.

“The latest decrease in monarch butterflies is likely due to a decrease in the milkweed plant (Asclepias) – a primary food for monarchs – from herbicide use in the butterfly’s reproductive and feeding grounds in the U.S., as well as extreme climate variations during the fall and summer affecting butterfly reproduction,” according to the World Wildlife Federation.

Concerned about the plight of the Monarch, Stanley brought the issue to the attention of ADK Action, a local nonprofit group that has tackled environmental issues in the past. Stanley is a board member of the group and said she got strong support from the group to make it a priority of the organization to help the Monarchs. Stanley was put in charge of the issue.

Since then, ADK Action has made a strong push to make the public aware of the Monarch’s plight, including informing it about what to do to help the butterfly.

The group published 10,000 brochures on the Monarch and distributed throughout the Adirondacks. It also provided the Wild Center with a grant to show, “Flight of the Butterflies,” a film that explores the Monarch’s migration from the northern United States to Mexico, where the butterflies spend the winter.

In the brochure, there are recommendations for helping the Monarch, including planting or expanding butterfly gardens and preserving and planting milkweed.

One of the places where milkweed is most commonly found is on roadsides. Because of this, ADK Action wrote letters to Adirondack highway departments, urging them to spare the plant during the summer months into mid-September, when Monarchs are using them. Milkweed is the only plant that Monarchs will use to lay eggs.

“The top two Monarch scientists, Dr. Lincoln Brower of Sweetbriar College and University of Florida, and Dr. Chip Taylor of University of Kansas, advise us that mowing should be avoided from the end of June to at least Sept. 15,” wrote ADK Action board chair David Wolff in the letter. “This would assure milkweed foliage is available to Monarchs during the final reproductive cycle in the Adirondacks. These late Monarchs are members of a ‘super generation’ which lives much longer than others and flies from here all the way to Mexico to winter, then back to the Gulf states in spring to renew the migratory cycle. While true that milkweed is plentiful in the Adirondacks, scientists say more milkweed in areas like ours can serve as mitigation for its loss elsewhere due to widespread herbicide use and development.

“Consider that every butterfly that completes the migration to Mexico and back to the U.S. has the potential to lay 200 or more eggs. That would mean that if we save 10,000 butterflies by well-timed mowing, there is the potential for 2 million more Monarchs next spring as a result.”

The additional Monarchs would help curb what scientists believe has been a steady decline in the population for more than 20 years. The World Wildlife Fund considers the butterflies a species that is near to being considered endangered.

Because of these facts, Stanley is hoping others will join her battle to help the Monarchs.

“Everybody loves those butterflies, and it’s something positive that we all could do, just a little thing we could do to help them,” Stanley said.