Importance of Monarch Conservation
By Candy Sarikonda
I am a nurse. A mother. A lover of nature. I want to make this world a better place.
And monarchs are helping me do just that.
Monarch conservation is important for many reasons. First, conserving and creating monarch habitat will help many of our pollinators. Every third bite of food we eat comes to our table courtesy of a pollinator. Monarchs, bees and many other pollinators share much of the same habitat—so what happens to monarchs, happens to other pollinators. Monarchs are an indicator of the damage done to our environment—we can count them as they gather by the millions in Mexico. They are an indicator of what we cannot fully quantify—the loss of our pollinators and their habitat. We need to protect all of our pollinators—the many bees, birds, bats, and other insects that provide us with pollinator-services and ultimately put food on our tables. Do you like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries? How about watermelon, apples, bananas or squash? Chocolate? Then thank a pollinator!
Monarchs are a flagship for conservation. The Monarch Joint Venture explains this well. Monarchs engage children and adults in conservation efforts. By participating in the monitoring of monarchs through citizen science programs, or simply experiencing the joy of raising a monarch at home or in school, children get direct experience with nature and develop the strong connection with nature that will lead to their development as conservationists of the future. According to the Nature Conservancy, conservationists point to a childhood experience with nature as the most important factor that led to their environmental activism as adults. In an increasingly urban society, we need to keep giving children direct experiences with nature that will foster their development into conservationists.
We know that exposure to the natural world can produce significant health benefits. Exposure to nature has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduce obesity, reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and promote a general sense of well-being. Citizens who understand the connection between themselves and the natural world understand the importance of caring for themselves and the environment. By participating in projects designed to monitor monarch populations, citizens can witness the effect that pesticides and loss of habitat have on pollinators. And they can see how the loss of pollinators ultimately affects them.
Monarch conservation can also help develop an interest in science. Engaging students in exploration and observation of the natural world will help them develop the skills critical for the development of our future science and technology leaders. In a global market, the U.S. cannot afford to lag behind many other industrialized nations in the preparedness of our students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We need to get our youth interested in science; to make it fun and exciting for them; and help them build the confidence they need to succeed in their chosen STEM career paths. Exposure to the natural world helps children develop social skills, improve critical thinking skills, develop self-initiative, develop self-confidence and improve creativity. These are the skills needed by successful STEM leaders of the future.
Each and every one of us must do our part in conservation of our natural world. Conserving the monarch migration is one way to make a difference. There are many ways to help monarch butterflies. We must create, conserve, and restore monarch habitat—we need to plant milkweed. And not just milkweed, but many other host and nectar plants that support our bees, butterflies, and birds. It is OUR responsibility to restore habitat. No one person can do it alone—it takes a village. If every person in this country planted just ONE milkweed, we would have 300 million more milkweed plants than we do now. It starts with education—educating people that monarchs are in decline; that they only feed on milkweed; and that we can collectively do something to help them. We need to make a conscious effort—educate ourselves, find out what monarchs and other pollinators in our home gardens and park preserves love, and plant it; instead of growing plants with little or no pollinator-value. We can reduce mowing of roadsides and other suitable plots of land, and demonstrate the cost savings. Eliminate needless lawn and plant pollinator-friendly plants. Get involved in citizen science programs. Be of service and volunteer.
We need to reduce pesticide and herbicide use. Pesticides kill pests, and can harm or kill monarchs. But they can also harm humans. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a growing body of evidence indicates the negative health outcomes that can arise from exposure to pesticides during childhood. Scientists have noted the effect that pesticides and herbicides have had in animal models, and have documented evidence of their impact on human health in farming communities. We have seen increased rates of depression and Parkinson’s disease in farming communities. In California’s Central Valley, farming towns are referred to by some as “Parkinson’s Alley”. Yet, with the advent of GM crops, we have seen an increase in the use of herbicides, the development of superweeds, and the use of more and more potent chemicals. It is time to reexamine the way we farm, and how we use pesticides/herbicides in our daily lives. Clearly, limiting herbicide and pesticide use will not only be good for monarchs—it will be good for human health as well.
We need to contact our legislators and support legislation that protects pollinators and their habitat. The Farm Bill is an important piece of legislation that can be used to support the creation of pollinator habitat in the form of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. We need to encourage our legislators to support provisions in the Farm Bill for the creation and maintenance of CRP land. According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, over one billion bees, or nearly 75% of Ohio’s honeybees, have been lost to Colony Collapse Disorder. An untold number of native bees have been lost as well. Crops left unpollinated could result in over $80 million in lost revenue per year for Ohio’s specialty farmers. In the 2008 Farm Bill, funding was authorized to conserve pollinator habitats. But while an amendment was offered to the 2013 Farm Bill to further this effort, it was not considered by the Senate. We cannot allow this important legislation to fall by the wayside. We need to let our legislators know we support efforts to conserve pollinator habitat via the Farm Bill. We need to educate and empower our fellow citizens to do the same.
We need to work with the private sector, and encourage companies to adopt business practices that will conserve natural resources. We must convince companies that investing in “green capital” is not just the morally right thing to do—it is the only thing to do. Investing in our natural resources is a necessity for many companies to continue their business practices. According to Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy, nature is not a luxury—it is an investment.
As conservationists, we must focus on bringing newcomers to the conservation table, engaging the general public in our conservation efforts. We cannot continue to “preach to the choir.” Monarchs bring people to the table. No monarch conservation organization simply promotes monarchs only. Monarchs are the focus of course, but the ultimate goal is conservation—of both humans and wildlife.
In any endeavor, it is important that we all work together. We must focus on what unites us, rather than on what divides us. We will have different ideas, different experiences, and different viewpoints. But we must find common ground, and use our differences to make us stronger. It will take many hands to secure the future, both for the monarchs and ourselves. We must present a united front. This is something that partners in monarch conservation have known for years—Monarch Joint Venture partners united in one effort, ultimately to protect the environment and humanity.
How did we get from monarch conservation to the subject of pollinator habitat, human health, green capital and STEM rankings? It’s simple. Humans do not exist separately from nature. The term “The Web of Life” is not just a flowery cliché. It is reality. Everything is connected. Everything.