Those concerned about declining numbers of monarch butterflies have been delighted to see an increase in them this month.
A Wisconsin Public Radio report notes that monarch numbers are on the rise this September as they prepare migrate. The report cites favorable weather for the last two years in Mexico, where monarchs winter, but several efforts have been underway throughout the state and in Waunakee to protect them.
At Schumacher Farm Park, groups of 50 to 100 of monarchs were recently spotted roosting in trees.
“You can just see them, and these roosting sites are incredible,” said David Hogg, a professor emeritus of entomology at UW-Madison who lives in Waunakee. Hogg is part of the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative, a state project operated through the Department of Natural Resources.
“Things are really looking up for now. We hope it’s a trend and not just a two-year blip,” Hogg said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had considered placing monarchs on the threatened species list, but as of now has delayed that decision, Hogg added.
Hogg had approached the village board in December about the village signing a Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, and efforts have been underway to plant monarch friendly gardens with milkweed, food for the butterflies.
“The main thing the community can do is bring awareness to show people they can plant monarch-friendly gardens,” Hogg said.
Volunteers at Schumacher Farm Park have also done their part. Steve Robertson is part of the park’s monarch restoration program. They’ve maintained a butterfly garden and conserved milkweed.
“Milkweed is really the heart of the monarch and habitat,” Robertson said. “Their life cycle revolves around milkweed.”
Robertson said the plants will regenerate another plant each new year.
“We’ve had better luck with just keeping the milkweed…rather than just planting new and re-growing it,” Robertson added.
Amy Jo Dusick, park administrator, said a new additional pollinator garden was added with this year when volunteers from Americorps worked at the park for a week.
She said many of the other plantings around the farmyard are predominantly native plants, which have evolved with the region’s wildlife, including the monarch butterfly.
“We’ve retained some of the common milkweed patches in landscaped beds and threw milkweed seed down in an area along the plum row,” Dusick said.
In 2020, the park will initiate a citizen scientist monarch monitoring program, Dusick added.
Park volunteers have also collected monarch eggs and raised them at home to be released.
Robertson said this practice has been criticized, but he believes with a large number of monarchs migrating through the area, the ones raised in captivity will have a guide through the migration.
“There’s every reason to believe at this point, these human-fostered monarchs can be brought into the migration,” Robertson said, noting that several years ago, whooping cranes were bred and led by humans on their migration to Florida.
The Wisconsin Public Radio report notes that the monarchs now being spotted in Wisconsin are the fourth generation. The first starts in Mexico in winter, and as they begin to migrate north in the spring, they start to reproduce.
Hogg said he also raises monarchs.
“Survival out in the fields is really low. About 2 percent of those will survive and become butterflies, and if you bring them in, as long as you take care of and they are fed well, it’s about 90 percent,” Hogg added.
One of the top monarch experts in the country is Karen Oberhauser at the UW-Madison Arboretum, Hogg said. One project she’s started is called Journey North, a citizen scientist method of tracking monarchs coming south in the spring
Dusick, however, said the overall trend of overwintering populations is still in decline since data collected by Journey North from the 1990s.
“There is certainly hope that our collective actions, large and small, are starting to make a difference in their habitat and resources,” Dusick said.