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Making Room for Milkweeds and Monarchs

Farmers, Citizen Scientists & Students for Social Responsibility

In order to curb the risk of food web collapse, by changing the way glyphosate herbicides are used

  • The premise of this initiative is to demonstrate that food and fiber can be viably farmed across North America without the inappropriate use of glyphosate herbicides decimating milkweeds on farms and triggering further declines in IMG_1610monarch butterfly populations.
  • We wish to positively promote best practices already being used by certain farmers to keep milkweeds and monarchs healthy in our farm-capes.  We wish to underscore broad public support for voluntarily undertaking all actions possible to food web collapse in the milkweed community that monarch butterflies depend upon.
  • The monarch butterfly migration from Canada and the United States to Mexico has for two decades been considered an endangered phenomenon. By early 2013, the areas occupied by each of the nine monarch colonies in the Mexican state of Michoacan dwindled down to just 1.19 hectares. This number represents a decline of almost 59% from the area occupied the previous winter.
  • Further, this Mexican monarch overwintering population estimate is the smallest recorded since the monarch colonies came to the attention of scientists in 1975. As reported in the New York Times in late November of 2013, experts are deeply concerned that the 2013-2014 population may be even smaller. That concern is justified by the low numbers of monarch caterpillars and adults seen in the U.S. and Canada in summer and fall of 2013 and the delayed and diminished arrival of monarchs back in Michoacan.
  • A dramatic decline in the number of monarch roosts or “clusters” found in Canada is already occurring, dropping from 55 roosts documented in 2011, to 25 in 2012 to just 17 in 2013.
  • Similar declines have occurred in the overwintering grounds along the coast of California, which by 2010, were down to just 13% of what they were in 1997.
  • Several factors may contribute to these declines, but some appear to be more damaging [and perhaps more preventable] than others. The significant decline in the overwintering monarch population since 2003 appears to be correlated with the adoption of glyphosate- [herbicide] tolerant row crops that were first introduced in 1996.
  • By 2004, the adoption of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist glyphosate exceeded 51% of the total area planted to these GE crops. The adoption rate of GE corn and soy that allowed extensive glyphosate application without crop damage [but heightened milkweed decimation in corn and soy fields] increased to 81% by 2010.
  • A half of a dozen kinds of milkweeds are now scarce in this formerly productive field and field-side habitats across the Midwest and Great Plains. The best scientific estimates project a 58% decline in milkweeds & 81% decline in monarchs from 1999 to 2010 in farmscapes across the Midwest and Great Plains.  Overall, the amount of milkweed habitat lost due to the adoption of GE crops which tolerate glyphosate spraying may exceed 100 million acres.
  • Not only monarchs but other butterflies, bees, wasps and beetles nutritionally rely on the nectar of 110 kinds of milkweeds in North America, and incidentally move the pollinaria or “pollen package” from one flower to the next to allow pollination, sexual fertilization and seed set to occur. Thus the decline in milkweeds affects not only monarchs, but dozens of other species in the invertebrate animal community of a milkweed patch.
  •  Although milkweeds are not primarily dependent on monarchs and other butterflies for pollination, the flighty movements of butterflies from flower to flower more than makes up for the modest amount of pollen they carry. Monarchs are, however, nutritionally dependent upon milkweeds for obtaining certain defensive chemicals, even though they also drink nectar from other kinds of flowers.
  • While other herbicides and pesticides as well as climate change may also be impacting milkweeds and monarchs, more discretion in the use of glyphosates such as Roundup® could dramatically reduce the die-offs of milkweeds and as a result, the declines in monarchs in farmscapes. Some farmers have already pioneered these best practices without compromising the economic viability of their field crop or orchard operations.
  • Like learning to use any tool, others farmers need to be trained in the appropriate, prudent and targeted use of glyphosates to avoid collateral damage of non-target species. We believe it is the social responsibility of manufacturers, distributors and users to voluntarily take on an initiative to ensure that minimum harm is done to milkweeds, monarchs and farmworkers having to apply these herbicides if they wish to see them remain in the marketplace.
  • Americans, especially grade school, high school and college students, cherish their contact with monarch butterflies and are aware that they are declining. Without embroiling students in the political debate over herbicide use, it is important that policy makers and practitioners hear that our youth value monarch butterflies as much or more than nearly any other invertebrate creature on this planet.
  • A “payment for ecosystem services” survey published in Conservation Letters in October, 2013 documents that adult Americans claim they are willing to support monarch butterfly conservation at high levels, up to about 6 ½ billion dollars a year, if extrapolated to all U.S. households.
  • The estimated 6,000 acres of monarch habitat is still being lost per day due to development or inappropriate use of agricultural chemicals is of such concern that they wish to demonstrate public support for restoring milkweeds in the former habitats and protecting monarchs by other means.
  • Well over 250,000 students a year from 32 U.S. States and at least three Canadian provinces and three Mexican states are annually engaged in observing monarch migration, observing monarch caterpillars on milkweeds and tagging monarch butterflies in the roles as “citizen scientists” in and beyond the schoolyard.
  • Millions more children learn about monarch metamorphosis and migration in the classroom, and visit monarch roosts in California with their schools or families. It is the most widely recognized and most beloved butterfly in North America, a symbol of hope.
  • At least 60,000 students participate in the “symbolic migration” of paper monarchs sent by mail to Mexico to parallel the biological migration of living monarchs. They now feel a link to the Mexican populace residing near the wintering grounds in Michoacan and are implicitly committed to monarch protection, and milkweed conservation as well.
  • We wish to err on the side of respect for American farmers and the manufacturers and distributors of the on-farm chemicals that they employ, assuming that the collateral damage happening to milkweeds and monarchs has largely been unintended.  We want to engage in positive dialogue, since bashing herbicides and launching protests against glyphosate manufacturers have not resulted in any significant change in the production, distribution or use of glyphosates in North America to date.
  • However, some glyphosate manufacturers have affirmed that their mission is related to “hope, health and humanity.” Does this not suggest a window for respectful dialogue between glyphosate manufacturers and those concerned about the risk of food web collapse among the milkweed community, including monarch starvation?
  • What if the hundreds of thousands of monarch aficionados expressed their concern and love for monarchs and their willingness to make room for milkweeds between this next spring’s equinox and National Pollinator Week? The latter week is a designation unanimously endorsed by the U.S. Senate, which will occur between June 16 and 22 in 2014.
  • What if tens of thousands of individuals dressed as monarchs or milkweeds quietly and peacefully placed paper monarchs outside the headquarters of glyphosate manufacturers and the offices of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Protection Agency and USDA, as an invitation for respectful dialogue? What if non-confrontational “engagement” rather than a “protest” march occurred on behalf of monarchs and milkweeds?
  • What if our most eloquent spokespersons on behalf of monarch and milkweed conservation—from eminent scientist-naturalists to writer-conservation activists all converge on St. Louis, MO and Washington D.C. to give talks, performance art events, readings and rallies in schools, colleges, universities, zoos and botanical gardens in spring of 2014?
  • Already, the M4M “Moving for Monarchs” initiative is organizing millions to arrive on the Washington D.C. during National Pollinator Week mall to express their values associated with the need to protect monarch and milkweeds.
  • What if a board of advisors of some of Americas most respected religious leaders in the “caring for creation” movement and educators in the “citizen science” movement ethically engage board members of glyphosate manufacturers of their own faith or in their own area of residence?
  •  What if a delegation of science, art, ethics and religious leaders request an audience with the glyphosate manufacturers to respectfully request that they voluntarily respond with new policies and practices, such as support for milkweed plantings, or supporting farmers already using best practices to train others in how to minimize harm to milkweeds and monarchs before the herbicides can be applied? What if farmers are seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem?
  • What if Americans come together to forge shared solutions in time to save endangered monarchs rather than prolonging inaction and potential conflict? What if we worked together to avert continent-wide loss of monarchs in a manner that we did not accomplish for the Passenger Pigeon or the American Chestnut? What if collaborative collaboration begins to take place on a voluntary basis faster than regulation and litigation could ever resolve such an issue?


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Comments (1)

A Monsanto representative could point out that when milkweed farmers grow milkweed as a crop in order to harvest the milkweed seeds for sale to conservation interests they grow the milkweed as a monoculture and use herbicides extensively like this:

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