Butterflies in manicured suburban habitats

Paul Cherubini monarch at saber.net
Fri Jan 11 19:27:44 EST 2002

Barb Beck wrote:

> Maybe in the last few years you have seen what you consider to be lots of
> Monarchs overwintering in the area but believe me it is nothing like the
> numbers that were there in the 40s and 50s. The "hordes" of Monarch
> you see today are pitiful remnants of what flocked to the wintering trees
> in those times.

Barb, it would be interesting if you could provide photos to substantiate this
impression.  I have viewed photos of the Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz 
monarch colonies taken in the 50's and began taking photos there myself 
beginning in the mid-1960's. Here's one of Pacific Grove I took in Jan. 1968 
when about 30,000 monarchs were there:
http://www.mindspring.com/~cherubini/diveley.JPG  By contrast, 60,000 
monarchs were at this same site in Jan. 1990 and Jan. 1997. (I need to get
these pictures digitized)

> As much as suburban sprawl has decreased the natural habitat expanding
> agriculture to feed the people of this planet has probably taken a far
> greater toll.  Even agricultural practices have changed for the worse for
> butterflies.

Actually, monarch summer breeding habitat is EXPANDED by agriculture.
Here in the western USA, our prime summer monarch breeding habitats
are found where the original desert vegetation has been plowed over and
irrigated. Travel out to Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, southern Idaho, 
eastern Washington and Oregon in the summer and it becomes apparent
milkweed plants are abundant only in irrigated grazed pastures, along
the edges of irrigated crops and along the roadsides bordering irrigated 
land. Here are photos of how irrigation and the plow has transformed
the desert sagebrush landscape at Minden, Nevada (south of Reno)

Once again, butterfly conservation organizations don't see it this way.
For some unknown reason they are unwilling to publicly acknowledge that
a natural landscape can be transformed by agriculture and road building 
and actually create or enhance monarch summer breeding habitat.  Instead,
they take an opposite view the agricultural expansion is a serious threat
to monarch summer breeding habitat:

Example: Dr. O.R. (Chip) Taylor, director of the Monarch Watch wrote:

"New roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion - all
transform a natural landscape in ways that make it impossible for
Monarchs to live there."

Paul Cherubini
Placerville, Calif.


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