It is no secret that our pollinators are in peril. Our educational model here at Butterfly Farms is the Monarch Butterfly. The Monarch is symbolic of what we are doing to our ecosystem. Diverse species share the same habitat. People are aware that Monarchs are losing habitat but lose sight that this same habitat is shared with ground nesting birds, small mammals and other animals, right up the food chain. Pollinators hold our ecosystem together and importantly feed us.
There are various reasons for the decline of our pollinators:
Our nation’s energy policies, specifically the ethanol mandate, have encouraged farmers to convert every bit of land possible to cropland. 24 million acres have been lost since 2007 and counting. That is bigger than the State of Indiana! Over 11 million of these acres were land that Congress had set aside as Conservation Reserve Program land. Since 2000 farmers began using herbicide tolerant crops. This has encouraged farmers to plant from boundary to boundary eliminating hedgerows. It also has virtually removed even our most resilient host and nectar plants from our farms. Additionally we have the effects of development and urban sprawl replacing grasslands and native habitat with concrete and imported ornamental landscape plants.
The solution? We may never be able to turn back the clock on what we have done to the earth. What we can do is work to restore pollinator habitat. Not just for our butterflies but for honeybees and other pollinators. We need to restore a mixed landscape of host and nectar plants. We need to recreate natural habitat that will support ground-nesting birds, small mammals, diverse pollinators and of course Monarch Butterflies.
What are we doing to help? We strive to teach conservation not just in the classroom but also by example. On our 5-acre property we propagate and distribute many diverse pollinator host and nectar plants. We also work closely with US Fish and Wildlife Service planting and developing native pollinator gardens. We build way stations for our migrating pollinators and we study the interactions of our pollinators and their environment.
What can you do to help? Encourage others to become aware of environmental issues and our fragile ecosystems. Plant milkweed for our Monarchs and maybe rip out some of that lawn and plant pollinator hosts and nectar plants. Restore native habitats for our honeybees and other pollinators! Lobby our congress to amend our energy policies and to make better use of public areas to restore native habitat. Get involved!