If your children were about to take a long trip essential to your family’s survival you might, among other things, ensure they were in good health and had full stomachs before setting out. Well, every August, the monarch butterfly — one of Mother Nature’s smaller and more delicate “children” — makes a strenuous 3,000-mile trek from Minnesota back to its ancestral homeland in Mariposa, Mexico. The monarchs do so in spite of being only 3 inches across, weighing less than a dime and, amazingly, having never traveled to Mexico.
How this “super generation” of monarchs does this is still something of a mystery. But we know that milkweed plants — as the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food, and the only plant on which it can lay eggs and propagate future generations — are integral to its ability to sustain itself on the long journey.
Unfortunately, over the past 25 years, hundreds of millions of milkweed plants have been systematically destroyed by herbicides. As a result, the number of monarchs making the annual migration has plummeted, from 1 billion to 30 million.
The White House recently announced a modest plan to seed a path of milkweed plants from Minnesota to Mexico — along the I-35 corridor — in an effort to assist the monarchs. To date, $3.2 million has been allocated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the monarch Conservation Fund to jump-start the effort.
The federal government’s plan is a good beginning, but it is not enough. Minneapolis, as the largest northern city on the I-35 corridor, can also be part of the solution. In recent years, St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., have become “monarch sanctuaries.” Elected officials in those cities have committed to planting 50 butterfly gardens in public parks and spaces, while their citizens have created an additional 250 private sanctuaries.
Is a similar commitment by the city of Minneapolis absolutely necessary? No. Citizens can, should and are working independently to address the issue. But, personally, we don’t want to be part of the generation that witnesses the extinction of the monarch — the official state butterfly — and we believe most Minneapolitans feel the same way.
Therefore, we’d like to ask Mayor Betsy Hodges, the City Council and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to designate Minneapolis as an official monarch sanctuary, creating a minimum of 50 public sanctuaries by August — before the monarchs begin their next migration.
To help “seed” the effort, private nurseries and garden stores — many of which have already distributed thousands of milkweed seeds to citizens across the Twin Cities — might be persuaded to make the seeds available for the initiative; and volunteers of the #BringBackaBllionButterflies campaign will donate their time and labor to plant them.
At this point, no public funds are being requested. We are only asking for access to “our” public spaces for the purpose of making sure the next generation of monarch butterflies begins its long trip back to Mexico on a full stomach of milkweed.
Ideally, we’d love to see other Minnesota cities along the I-35 corridor, including Duluth, Hinckley, Northfield, Owatonna and Albert Lea, also become sanctuaries. Why? Because the monarchs’ survival isn’t just about butterflies. It is also about us as a people, and the legacy we want to leave for future generations.
Jack Uldrich and Nan Marie Zosel are residents of Minneapolis.