On one of my habitual morning runs, I noticed a monarch butterfly resting on the Katy Trail, mere inches from my sneakers. It was nearly impossible to see in the dark of pre-dawn. As I ran on, I worried that an unwitting cyclist might run it over. So I turned around and stood over the butterfly for several minutes, contemplating whether or not I should attempt to catch it and put it into the grass. Would I actually help the butterfly by doing this? Or would I injure it by accident? You know what they say about good intentions…
Any other insect and I would not have bothered – but monarchs have been in the news a lot lately, and not in a good way. In the last 25 years, 90 percent of the monarch butterfly population has disappeared in North America, mostly as a result of habitat destruction and the widespread use of pesticides. Other pollinators, like bees, aren’t faring much better, threatening the collapse of ecosystems and food supplies in the United States and around the world.
That is a pretty terrifying thought, and I often feel small and helpless in the face of such enormous problems. After all, what can I as an individual possibly do to bring back monarch butterflies? Does it do any good to save just one butterfly?
In a nutshell, the answer is yes.
I realized the key to change is thoughtful, local action – educating a group of people here, protecting a patch of wild prairie there. It might not seem like much at first, but it is a ripple effect. Local action is the epicenter from which education and conservation spreads.
In September, I attended a pollinators panel discussion. It centered around ‘Protecting our Pollinators,’ and five experts in bees, monarchs, and native prairies shared the importance of conservation on the local level. Simple things like planting wild flowers in your backyard or donating to hyperlocal land restoration groups can have critically important impacts.
The EarthX event highlighted a local North Texas initiative called The Great Seed Bomb (GSB), an innovative approach to pollinator habitat restoration. GSB is a 15-mile bike ride in which cyclists throw seed balls, filled with native wildflower and milkweed seeds, from their bikes onto trails and grassy areas. This family-friendly and fun event actively restores local habitat, raises awareness for pollinators, and raises funds to continue conservation work.
In other words, the Great Seed Bomb is the hyperlocal approach we need. Plus, the founder Jillian Jordan, is a total boss.
There are many groups out there as well, each with a unique approach. Texan By Nature, for example, is a nonprofit started by First Lady Laura Bush (another conservation boss) which has a statewide Monarch Wrangler project, designed to provide “Texas employers, organizations, and individuals with a results-oriented and meaningful way to get involved in creating habitat essential to monarch butterfly through planting natives, removing invasive species, and tagging or tracking monarchs.”
All of these groups – EarthX, the Great Seed Bomb and Texan By Nature – believe in the power of local action to tackle global problems. That’s where we come in. If enough of us take a lot of really small actions, the impacts could be enormous.
After my morning run, I got on my laptop and dug up five practical things you and I can do to help monarch butterflies:
Stop mowing our lawns. Let the native plants rage. If possible, plant milkweed in our backyards or, for those of us who live in apartments, express to our building managers how important it is to maintain areas of native plants.
Contact local representatives and ask for no-mow zones, or request the planting of native grasses and milkweed in public landscaping.
Donate time, money, tweets and Facebook-statuses to causes and organizations that support pollinators and native plants.
Be on the lookout for an opportunity to pledge to protect pollinators at EarthX, April 20-22, 2018. Don’t live in Texas? Don’t worry. The pollinator protection pledge is a nationwide movement.
Perhaps most importantly of all, we can continue educating ourselves and others about monarch butterflies, other pollinators and native plants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Federation are great places to start discovering ways to help pollinators.
I did end up trying to help that Katy Trail monarch. It clearly did not understand I was trying to help, and after my (hilariously awkward) attempts to catch it failed, the butterfly flew away to a safer perch. It wasn’t exactly the glorious hero moment I had intended, but it was a small action to save one small creature.
Just because the action is small doesn’t mean it isn’t important. So let’s get to work!
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