As you might have already heard, our founder Peggy is a big advocate for forest and species conservation. In 2005, after struggling to raise money for her non-profit Kids Saving the Planet, she decided to start a company driven by a mission to save endangered species by conserving their habitats. Lo and behold, the birth of Vermont Woods Studios!
One day, Peggy read about Jose Luis Alvarez and the work he was doing through Forests for Monarchs. After reading about his work, Peggy decided to reach out since they had aligned values in forest conservation and restoring the monarch butterfly. Since Vermont Woods Studios is a mission driven company, Peggy felt a partnership with Jose and Forests For Monarchs (FFM) would amplify the message and work around the importance of conserving the monarchs. Years later, we are still putting in the hard work with Jose and his team to Save The Monarchs.
Why do we focus our energy on monarchs? Monarchs play a significant role in the health of our planet. They are one of many key pollinators that are vital to the health of crops for food, medicine, fibers and other products. Monarch habitats are an essential piece of ecosystems that many wild animals and insects rely on for food and shelter. Essentially, if the monarch's habitat is in danger, so are other pollinators and wildlife.
Due to illegal logging, deforestation, habitat lost, climate change, pesticides, and herbicides, there has been a vast decline in biodiversity. The monarch butterfly, now on the endangered species list, went from a recorded population in California in the 1980’s of 4 million to just 30,000 in 2019. The milkweed plant, which is critical for the survival of young butterflies and caterpillars, is becoming harder to find due to increased development, weeding, and mowing.
So what can you do to help?
1. Plant native milkweed
Gather up your friends and family to have a seed harvesting party this fall! Get ready for seeds to germinate and monarchs to be happy in this great guide that Peggy wrote about how to plant milkweed for monarchs.
2. Don’t forget to plant native nectar
Although caterpillars and young monarchs need milkweed to survive, adult monarchs feed on a range of nectar sources. If you intend on planting nectar species for monarchs, be sure they bloom late into the fall for the adult monarchs to feed on them. This is how they get their energy to make their trip down south for winter.
3. Make milkweed seed bombs
Having trouble planting milkweed? Milkweed seed bombs are meant to be tossed outside in different places towards the end of the fall. This allows the seeds to germinate over the winter and have a proper habitat when the snow melts and the temperature goes back up.
Peggy wrote an awesome how-to guide that I encourage you to check out.
4. Take a stance on climate change
Monarch butterflies know when to migrate north for summer and south for winter due to a sun compass in their mid-brain and a circadian clock in its antennae. Temperatures are a critical trigger for the mass migration of the butterfly. For instance, the thaw of the spring tells monarchs when they should begin their journey back north. Due to the negative effects of climate change, however, the timing of the monarch migration is being distrubed.
5. Avoid mowing
Did you know that you may very well have milkweed in your own yard? Do you think you could avoid mowing and let your yard grow out this year so monarchs can feast and lay their eggs in the milkweed? If you can’t commit to your whole yard, maybe you can commit to a small section to help feed the monarchs. Read more about the benefits of not mowing on our blog.
6. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides on your yards or gardens
Milkweed plants have steadily decreased due to the increase of a weed killing herbicide called glyphosate within the United States. Additionally, the recently-approved herbicide called dicamba has been found to be toxic for milkweed and harms the monarch population.
7. Avoid buying GMO foods
With the increase of genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops, comes the increase of toxic weed killers, best known as glyphosate. However, these genetically engineered seeds are resistant to the herbicides, which leads to the farmers spraying more and more of the toxic herbicide on their crops. This leads to the substantial increase of milkweed being killed. Brice Semmens of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego wrote, "declines in milkweed abundance are well documented and highly correlated with the adoption of herbicide-tolerant genetically modified corn and soybeans, which now constitute 89 percent and 94 percent of these crops, respectively, in the U.S.”
8. Create a Monarch Waystation
Don’t have a yard but want to help out the monarchs? Create a Monarch Waystation at your local school, business, parks, or on any other unused plots of land! We got our headquarters in Vernon certified as a Waystation in 2015. Creating a Monarch Waystation can be as easy as maintaining or adding milkweeds and nectar sources in existing green spaces. You can register your Monarch Waystation here.
9. Avoid supporting brands with deforestation practices in Mexico, the USA, and Canada
Monarch butterflies migrate south for the colder months, where they rely on the forests in Mexico as their winter habitat. Due to the increase of illegal logging and deforestation, these forests that the monarchs call home have been destroyed. Be sure to take the extra time researching the brands you are thinking of supporting before making a purchase.
Did you know that for every furniture order Vermont Woods Studio receives, we plant trees in the monarch butterfly's winter habitat in Mexico?
10. Help save roadside habitats
Milkweed is commonly found along roadsides, where they are continuously mowed, therefore killing the precious milkweed that keeps monarchs alive. If you have some free time, email your local government to encourage reducing the amount of times they mow milkweed patches alongside the road.
11. Don’t adopt monarchs from commercial butterfly farms
Although this is with good intention, it leads to poor results. Sonia Altizer, director of Project Monarch Health, states, “I know people who purchase monarchs and use them in outreach and education, but, if you’re buying them with the goal of, ‘I’m going to release them and supplement the population,’ there are a lot of problems with that.” This is because commercial butterfly farms are largely unregulated, use pesticides themselves, are overcrowded, and lead to poor hygiene for the butterflies. Due to these practices, the spread of Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), a harmful protozoan that causes serious deformities in adult monarch butterflies, is commonly found in commercial farms.
12. Don’t raise monarchs indoors
The best thing you can do to repopulate the monarchs is by growing or supporting a habitat full of milkweeds and nectar plants. Studies show that monarchs born in captivity have trouble migrating south for the winter time. This tends to be because they end up having rounder, smaller top wings. Then, when it comes time to fly, they do not orient south for winter.
13. Participate in citizen science
Want to play a bigger role in the conservation of monarchs and deeper your understanding of butterfly ecology in general? The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) is a citizen science project involving volunteers from across the United States and Canada in monarch research. Citizen science projects help collect data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat. All you have to do is get trained, sign up, and then you are ready to monitor and submit your data!
14. Stay educated - watch these films
Staying up to date with the health of monarch butterflies is crucial to the preservation of them. Some great documentaries and youtube videos to watch are, The Incredible Journey of Butterflies, Flight of the Butterflies, How You Can Help Save the Monarch Butterfly, and Unraveling the Monarch Butterfly Migration Mystery.
15. Connect with these organizations
Take the time to research and donate if you can to these organizations that are doing incredible work to preserve and repopulate monarch butterflies.
- Forests For Monarchs supports the long-term survival of the monarch butterfly through the conservation and restoration of crucial forest land. (Our very own Peggy Farabaugh is the Vice President of the board.)
- The Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to protect the monarch migration across the United States.
- The Save Our Monarchs Foundation is a grassroots 501(c)3 non-profit organization formed by a group of six families who share the passion to rescue the endangered monarch butterfly species.
16. Share this information!
Helping spread the word about the importance of preserving monarch butterflies helps immensely. It is important to remember that no effort is too small in helping out the monarchs!
Monarch preservation is a top priority here at Vermont Woods Studios. We believe in using our leverage as a company to play a leading role in helping restore monarch butterfly populations. We hope you enjoyed these tips and that it inspired you to help save monarch butterflies with us!