In the winter of 1996-97, about one billion Monarch butterflies over-wintered at sites in Mexico. Their numbers plummeted to about 33 million, or a 95 percent drop in a 2013-14 count and raised alarm worldwide. Loss of habitat across monarch’s migration range and Mexican winter quarters, brought on by urban sprawl, agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion, led to the rapid and dramatic decline.
Growing public awareness, campaigns launched by Monarch Watch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Federation, and teaming with local and national conservation partners are helping to save habitat for these butterflies. Happily, the 2014-15 winter count brought on a slight increase to 55.7 million monarchs. Current tracking data from Journey North, a global group of citizen scientists tracking wildlife migration and seasonal change, report the numbers of fall roosts are better than any year since 2010. The beautiful monarch can be a “poster child” for conservation efforts to restore all natural habitats for precious and endangered wildlife.
The importance of the butterfly is well documented since these fluttering wonders have been around at least 50 million years. This highly diverse species, along with the mothand other invertebrates, are a mainstay for plant pollination. Additionally, they are important as a food source for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals, and play a role as a predator controlling insect populations. Butterflies and moths also serve as “model” organism indicators of healthy and stable ecosystem. Sadly, four butterfly and more than 60 moths species became extinct during the last century.
Inspired by the current work of so many native plant advocates, I hope to join their efforts in my small corner of South Dakota. During my monarch butterfly research, I discovered the Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, Minnesota, a business dedicated to the restoration of native plants. This nursery has roots dating back to 1970 and Dot Wade, their mentor and founder. Attending the 1970 Midwestern Prairie Conference (currently the North American Prairie Conference), Dot heeded the call for the creation and development of “true” wild-flower nurseries. Her long journey of plant experimentation and passion to restore native plants now provides the gardener with many choices.
After perusing through their website and catalog, I can now choose seeds and plants that will thrive and provide habitat for not only the monarch butterfly but other pollinators, insects and wildlife. What I truly appreciate is the research, organization and planting information provided by Prairie Moon Nursery to easily find plant combinations for my garden’s soil type and sun exposure.
Re-establishing the native ecosystem with the attitude of “build it and they will come,” I called upon several friends and neighbors to join me in this journey. Guided by excellent information from Internet research, I will be starting a new native garden, Spring 2016. My hope is if I build it they will come.