Monday, July 29, 2013

The Attack on Monarchy

Herewith a picture of healthy milkweed beginning to flower in our own backyard. It was planted late last year from a pot and has done very well indeed. This and similar varieties of milkweed represent the principal food source of Monarch butterflies—and grow copiously in soybean and corn plantations—hence represent a nuisance in agriculture. Our solution is chemical. Over the decades a major war of extermination—a kind of final solution—has been devised to get rid of the milkweed. The herbicide used is called glyphosate used in combination with genetically-modified and therefore glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybean. Modernity at work.

The consequence of this has been a major shrinkage of the Monarch population. One estimate suggests a 93 percent drop in the 1997-2013 period. That is more than significant. It’s been coming on slowly, but now we’re reaching what might be an end-stage. A scientific study (link), published in Insect Conservation and Diversity, shows recent results for the U.S. Midwest. In the 1999 to 2010 period, milkweed declined by 58, the Monarch population by 81 percent.

The Monarch over-winters in central Mexico in an area about 62 miles north-west of Mexico City; the nearest town is Michoacán, Mexico. There, in 1986, the Mexican government established the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. It is about 138 acres in size (a tad over a fifth of a square mile), but, these days, fewer than 3 acres of that reserve are actually used by the Monarch—down from 7.14 acres last year. The same pattern there as here. Blaming the Mexican government for tolerating logging in that area has been used to explain the decline for years; but logging has stopped; and now the real reason has been tracked back to the ingenuity of Monsanto; its glyphosate is known as Roundup. Well, they’re rounding up the Monarch too.

Our own milkweed will multiply, we think. Okay, it’s just a gesture. Thus far we’ve seen no monarch in our glen, but hope springs eternal. And some gestures, eventually, become the new reality.

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