By Ana Alexander
DASSEL, MN At the city council meeting Sept. 19, Mayor Jeff Putnam declared it Mayor Monarch Pledge Day in the city of Dassel.
“Several mayors throughout the state are doing a Mayor’s Monarch Proclamation. It’s environmental to help save the monarch butterfly,” Putnam said. “It’s suggesting we do a little bit of work to preserve the natural habitats of the monarch butterflies.”
The monarch, which is extremely beneficial to the pollination of flowers and crops, is declining in population.
“[The monarch] serves as an indicator species for the ecological health of large geographic areas,” Putnam said. “A report from the World Wildlife Federation indicates that migrating monarch butterflies are in grave danger.”
The monarch colonies in Mexico now occupy 1.65 acres, which is down from the nearly 45 acres the butterflies occupied in 1996. It’s estimated that in 2013, the migrating monarch butterfly population consisted of 35 million butterflies, which is a drastic decrease from the nearly 1 billion monarchs that the population once had.
“The monarch butterfly’s annual migration has been classified as a threatened phenomenon by the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” Putnam said.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the monarch butterfly is the only known butterfly that makes a two-way migration, just as birds do. Many monarchs make a nearly 2,500-mile journey during their migration.
“The major cause of decline to the monarch butterfly population is the widespread loss of a plant called milkweed, which is the only plant monarch butterflies lay their eggs on,” Putnam said.
Residents who would like to help preserve the presence of monarch butterflies should make an attempt to plant native milkweed where they can. Scientists do not advocate planting tropical milkweed, which is commonly planted by gardeners, as it can introduce parasites to the monarch caterpillars before they metamorphose. When these caterpillars hatch, they are much weaker than their healthier counterparts, and will likely not survive the migration to Mexico.
While native milkweed was once widespread across the country, it has seen its range fall by 58 percent during 1990 and 2010, according to Putnam’s report. This decrease is due to new developments and other human activities.
Council Member Sharon Asplin raised concerns about weed control, and how spraying for weeds might negatively affect milkweed populations.
“It’s just an observation, for people to take a look at what they’re going to kill and not kill,” Putnam said.
By considering what plants are being sprayed, and making an effort to plant native milkweed, people can help prevent the monarch populations from declining further.
“Every citizen of Dassel can make a difference for the monarch by planting milkweed and nectar plants to provide habitats for the monarch, and pollinators in locations where people live, work, learn, or play,” Putnam said.