When I first moved to this special part of the world I now call home, I was awestruck with the natural beauty. Santa Cruz County is abundant with life in the sea, on the land and in the air. Nestled along the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, are tall stately Eucalyptus trees that are the seasonal home of a very small but mighty creature. Monarch Butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year to these very trees their ancestors found respite in to be sheltered from the harsh cold winters. Natural Bridges State Park is a place where you can literally view thousands of Monarchs hanging like paper lanterns, waiting for the sun to warm their wings.
As this October came marching in, I was looking forward to seeing my ethereal and mighty Mariposas again. Then I read a disturbing headline from the New York Times, “The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear,” and my heart fluttered. What if the beautiful majestic cycle of butterfly migration would cease? What if future generations of awestruck travelers would never know the splendor and geographical capacity of the Monarch?
The article goes on to explain that one of the central regions of Mexico where Monarch butterflies have migrated to for thousands of years has witnessed a steady decline in Monarch numbers. Last year at this time, 60 million majestic Monarchs had flown from North America to ancient fir forests to spend their winters. Scientists were concerned that this number was low. This year only 3 million of these majestic Mariposas have appeared which means their numbers are plummeting and could be near collapse.
The biggest culprit is loss of habitat here in the north. Monarchs feed on milkweed nectar that once stretched far and wide across North American prairies. Growing up in Iowa, we used to crack open the milkweed pods and watch their white fluid issue forth. This viscous nectar was a topical home remedy for many skin ailments. That was a time before Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were grown in Iowa. Roundup Ready GMO corn and soy are everywhere and roundup is used profusely. The herbicide Roundup can now be sprayed with much virtuoso and it kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it. According to a recent study, 90 percent of the milkweed in Iowa has disappeared!
Honeybees and Monarchs are now both near collapse. It’s true we don’t need the Monarchs like we need honeybees to pollinate our food. But there is a need for beauty and strength in our lives that the Monarchs represent. It will be a very stark and sad day when the Monarchs fail to make the continental migration and gift us with their splendor.
What can we do to stop this reckless decimation of the beauty and balance that nature has gifted us? We must demand a moratorium of GMO plants and foods. The only way to make this happen is to label those foods as GMOs so consumers can identify them. Once we have transparent labeling people will make their choice and the cycle will start to unravel. More acres will be planted with Non-GMO seeds, and the milkweeds will again flourish to mend children’s fingers and the Monarchs may return. Until that time occurs, you can visit Live Monarch, which dedicated to restoring the Monarchs habitat.
Last April the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was introduced to the Senate and the House of Representatives. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) with cosponsors in the Senate and in the House. This bill would require food manufacturers to label any product that has been genetically engineered or contains genetically engineered ingredients. Contact your Representatives on both side of the aisle and tell them how you feel about GMO labeling. The Center for Food Safety has a petition telling EPA, ESDA and the President to protect Monarchs from Monsanto.
Plant a milkweed and pray for labeling. Let’s save the future of beauty and biodiversity for our children and their children.