Monarch Migration: The threat to the world traveler

Monarchs may stop migrating to Vermont because of climate change
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 10:03 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The story of the monarch butterfly over the last few decades is a grim one. The migratory butterfly, once a common sight in parts of the country, was just named to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s endangered list.

“At least in this part of Vermont, they are doing really well,” said Kent McFarland with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Though Vermont and the Northeast are doing well, they are only one stop on the monarch’s roughly 2,500-mile journey. They were red-listed due to declining numbers. Factors playing into their decimation include loss of habitat due to land use changes like agriculture and development. Also, drought, bad weather, and heat waves -- all direct impacts of climate change.

“It’s sort of death by 1,000 cuts. There are just too many problems,” McFarland said. He says this region is makes up about 10-to-15% of the migratory population. If the global population continues to decline, there would be no butterflies returning. “We won’t have monarchs if we lose that migration... They won’t come back here every year.”

The decline sets off international alarm bells for conservationists and McFarland says it will require a coordinated effort along the length of their migratory route from Canada to Mexico. “It’s a call to arms, it’s a call for everyone to sort of double down on their conservation efforts and work together and try to solve this problem,” he said.

While many love the monarch for its distinct colors and migratory mystique, they also play a critical role in Vermont’s ecology. They are a pollinator, and losing one pollinator is a big red flag. “They are experiencing the same pattern that thousands of other pollinator species are experiencing as well,” said Scott Lewins with the UVM Extension. He says pollinators play a big role in food systems as well as the ecological landscape of the entire region, so damage to one can have a ripple effect. “A particular species of pollinators is not going to impact our lives that much, but it’s the sum total of the loss of all the individuals and all of the species.”

Some of the best ways to help are avoiding mowing down milkweed, monarchs’ favorite plant.

An international counting program, Mission Monarch, is also running for one week starting this weekend.

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