Western Monarchs are doing better this summer

Ron Gatrelle gatrelle at tils-ttr.org
Mon Aug 5 20:05:24 EDT 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cherubini" <monarch at saber.net>
To: <leps-l at lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Monday, August 05, 2002 11:54 AM
Subject: Western Monarchs are doing better this summer

> Last winter monarch overwintering populations along the California
> coast were way below normal.  By mid June, however,
> monarchs were a common sight at milkweed patches
> around the western USA.  How the monarchs recover so
> rapidly is not well understood.
> Most of the western monarch summer breeding habitat
> is man made.  For example, in the Mount Shasta area
> of extreme northern California milkweed plants have
> invaded patches of forest that were that were clear cut
> several decades ago.  In this way, human activity inadvertently
> creates new breeding opportunities for monarchs.  Here
> are two photos I took on July 11, 2002 of
> milkweed in the Mount Shasta area growing on clear cut
> forest land:
> http://www.saber.net/~monarch/shastaper.jpg
> http://www.saber.net/~monarch/stewspg3.jpg
> A couple years ago monarch biologist Dr. Karen
> Oberhauser asked kind of jokingly: "Is logging
> ever good for monarchs ?   Well its no joke that logging
> has been good in some circumstances for western monarchs.
> Paul Cherubini
> Placerville, Calif.

And this is why none of this is "simple".  I would have a hard time
imagining that anyone would doubt that man is both the best friend and at
the same time enemy of things natural.  But is that really true?   Only if
we consider humans aliens.  As is pointed out from others from time to
time, we humans are a natural part (and significant part) of this planet's
natural systems.   I have never heard anyone (but Paul) point out to us
that it is human activity that is the major positive force behind the newly
evolving dynamics of Monarchs in the southwest US.  I know a lot of people
don't like this phrase, but Monarchs are a "weedy" species.

Let's say for the sake of argument that we humans end up altering the
environment enough that Monarchs can no longer overwinter in the current
location in Mexico.  But at the same time humans have created many
conducive environs in California for _new_ overwintering sites and breeding
areas.   Could it be that 1,000 years from now we as a species learned to
not be so hard on ourselves because we came to see that we too are a very
necessary part of the balances of nature?  Like letting the fires of
Yellowstone burn, we have to be allowed to do what we do - "good" and

Which brings up something else I wonder about.  It really seems to me that
the attention of many is _not_ to keep Monarchs from going extinct but the
maintenance of the  _phenomenon_ of Mexican overwintering.   Monarchs are
in no danger whatsoever of going "extinct" as a species.  Yet, in the PR
war to protect the phenomenon, we are given the impression that without it
they_may_ go extinct.

Well, I guess I have opened the can of worms this time :-).  But it's
getting that time of year again soon when this topic will come up again.
For those who have never experienced it before, the debate and factors are
always the same year after year.  Oversimplified, the news is always on the
edge of crisis (doom and gloom) from one camp and nothing to be concerned
about from the other (the perpetual silver lining).   My suggestion is to
just sit back and relax and watch the debate (sparks) - as it is very
educational (though at times personal and quite testy).

Ron Gatrelle


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