Monarch butterfly population declining

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant. (File photo/John Meyland)

TOWN OF CLAYTON - When you ask someone to name a butterfly, chances are the monarch comes to mind.

But this familiar flyer may be in trouble, and there is a trend some say is causing concerns with the population.

At a three-acre prairie west of Neenah, Marv and Barb Gossen raise butterflies.

"You are so lucky," said Barb Gossen, Town of Clayton.

On Friday morning, a swallowtail butterfly emerged from its winter shell.

"When that happens, it's a wonderful feeling," said Gossen.

But Gossen says a butterfly close to her heart may be in trouble.

"Right now they're in decline, and I don't see as many monarchs in my prairie, which worries me greatly," said Gossen.

And scientists are worried too. A report from the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico's Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission indicates the number of monarchs migrating from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico has dropped to its lowest level in more than 20 years.

"We used to have hundreds of millions of the monarchs. Now we're down to just 20-50 million, in just a few short years," said Jessica Miller, Mosquito Hill Nature Center naturalist.

Miller says monarchs live only a matter of weeks. So those returning to Wisconsin need to reproduce in places like Texas. Miller says monarchs face changing weather conditions, pesticides and fewer milkweed plants.

"The milkweed is the lifeblood of monarchs. That's what they lay their eggs on, so if there's no milkweed, there's no monarchs," said Miller.

So what can be done? Donna VanBuecken says people need to plant milkweed for the monarch caterpillars.

"But also then to plant nectar plants, so that once the caterpillars become butterflies, they have something that they can nectar from as well," said Donna VanBuecken, Wild Ones executive director.

Barb Gossen hopes to see the monarchs later this month.

"They're coming up later and later. They're coming up in fewer numbers. And someday, in my lifetime, I may live to see no monarch butterflies on my prairie, and that would be a shame," said Gossen.

Naturalists say Monarchs will continue to migrate in other places throughout the world. But they say if the trend continues the only way to remember monarchs in the Midwest may be through pictures.