MONARCHS AND MILKWEED

Monarch butterflies (Danaus Plexippus) have suffered a grave decline as population size has plummeted from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 30,000 individuals in 2019. In 2020 the USFWS placed monarch butterflies as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act. When I think about monarch butterflies, I think about a fragile beautiful insect. They are a unique species that goes through multiple generations when migrating North. They essentially lay their eggs on a specific plant, then die every two weeks and the cycle continues. When migrating South, they have one continuous life cycle that lasts a couple months. The milkweed plant is so important for monarchs because it is the only plant species that monarchs will feed and lay eggs on. Without this plant, monarch migration would not be possible. The Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River occur along a critical monarch butterfly migration flyway and offer host plants that are essential for monarch survival. Immediate action is needed to prevent species extinction. The project I am working on will advance monarch butterfly conservation efforts by converting degraded land into favorable monarch habitat by establishing nectar-rich plant species.

Here at Grand Canyon National Park I work under the vegetation program. My everyday work includes tending to the plants at the nursery and greenhouse. I also focus on my own citizen science project which is monitoring milkweeds and monarchs and gathering that data to later enter on the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper database (Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper). This is a great user friendly resource because anyone who has access to the website can enter data on monarch or milkweed sightings. Every week I help with seed collecting, seed cleaning, and seed storing. We strategically collect seeds from a region that needs restoration in an effort to keep the genetic diversity of that region. Soon I will start collecting milkweed seeds and processing them. Then, the milkweed seeds will be planted at our nursery in a seed orchard. We are doing it this way because there is a lack of wild milkweed plants, and we need an abundant resource of seeds to plant and restore monarch habitat.

Working with the National Park Service has made me realize that the little things we do can make a difference. Conservation work in general can be difficult and requires a lot of field days. Yet, it is also very rewarding knowing we are bettering the habitat for the environment’s sake. Also, working with beautiful views in canyon country is not so bad. As my supervisor says every morning “have a great day out there in radio land!”

“We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” 

Aldo Leopold

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