Monarch on milkweed
Monarch on milkweed. Credit: s3728/Flickr

If you’re a regular Loose Leaf reader, you know we follow monarch butterflies pretty closely. That’s not only because they’re important pollinators, forest animals and beautiful creatures — when they cluster on the branches of the oyamel fir in their winter home, they are a landscape unto themselves. It’s also because we’ve got a dog in this fight. We’ve been actively working to restore habitat for the monarchs since our first project in Michoacán, Mexico, in 2006. With partner La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, we’ve planted a million trees to bolster their winter habitat.

So, when I saw Jim Robbins’ recent New York Times article, The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear, I had mixed feelings. The news the article brought was not good: As of mid-November, only 3 million monarchs had arrived on the scene of their winter habitat in Mexico. Last year, it was 60 million — and even that was low.

On the other hand, it’s good to know that people are paying attention to this problem. Monarch butterflies are an important species for reasons both practical and fanciful. As pollinators, they have a role to play in helping plants and crops reproduce. For the people of Michoacán, they are also economically important, bringing tourists to the area each winter. On a more sentimental note, their beautiful patterns and fluttering wings capture our imagination, and their migration — in which millions of butterflies from across North America convene on the same few acres their predecessors did, despite having never been there themselves — is one of the great astounding mysteries of nature.

So, though the news may be bad, we’ll continue pulling for the monarchs. And we’re glad to see others are, too.

More monarch butterflies in Loose Leaf: