Are We Watching the End of the Monarch Butterfly?

Heartbreaking. In Today’s New York Times:

Citizen scientists recently gathered in a coastal Northern California town to count the butterfly during its winter migration. The results were alarming.

Jan. 25, 2019
By Mary Ellen Hannibal

Ms. Hannibal writes about science and the environment from San Francisco.

Haleigh Mun

For almost 30 years, hundreds of volunteers have helped document monarch butterfly numbers at more than 200 sites across California, from Mendocino to San Diego. A small group of these citizen scientists recently descended on the sleepy coastal town of Bolinas, near Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, to conduct the latest tally in a place where thousands of these butterflies were once counted during their winter migration.

The group was met by Mia Monroe, a ranger for the National Park Service for 40 years. She was representing the Xerces Society, a nonprofit devoted to invertebrate conservation.

“We aren’t expecting many butterflies today,” Ms. Monroe warned. Monarch numbers have been plummeting for decades, and recent surveys of their breeding habitats had reported low numbers. Making matters worse, only weeks before, wildfires had swept through the region, engulfing the Bay Area with smoke for two weeks.

“Maybe the monarchs have taken a different route, around the fire and smoke?” someone asked. “That’s a dream,” Ms. Monroe said. “But we are here to honor the survivors, and to be together in a difficult moment.”

Directing us to move with stealth into a lot overgrown with poison oak vines and blackberry brambles, she pointed to a ring of eucalyptus trees. The morning had begun cold but the temperature had inched past 54 degrees, when monarchs begin to emerge from their slumber. The brown and green branches of one tree were stirring, as if a slight breeze was ruffling the dun-colored leaves. But then a distinctive orange color revealed itself. Butterflies peeled off from the branches, each one opening like a warm kiss before fluttering into the air.

Increasingly, people without formal backgrounds in science are collaborating with scientists to collect data on a scale that scientists alone would be unable to compile. The work of these people in recording the exact time, place and conditions of their butterfly observations is vital to monitoring the health of monarch populations. Tracking these butterflies is one of the longest-standing examples of this kind of teamwork.

Over the period of a year, monarchs produce four to five generations. The last and longest-lasting of them is born between August and October. Unlike their predecessors, which live as butterflies for a mere two to four weeks, these monarchs survive for six to eight months. After staying put over the winter in Mexico or California, they disperse in March or April, spreading far and wide in search of milkweed upon which to lay their eggs, which will morph into caterpillars that become the next generation of butterflies. The final generation in this yearlong cycle will return to the same California coast as their ancestors did. How these butterflies find their place of origin remains a mystery.

Last year’s count in Bolinas had been very low; still, the trees had been festooned with scores of butterfly clumps, in which hundreds of monarchs hung together for warmth and protection. This time, there was just one clump. Later we would learn that the total count of this site in Bolinas, which the previous year tallied 12,360 butterflies, plummeted this winter to just 1,256 monarchs. “This animal story that has been going on for centuries and perhaps thousands of years is disappearing and may be gone” soon, Ms. Monroe told us, her eyes tearing.

The total number of West Coast monarchs was estimated at approximately 4.5 million in the 1980s. In the latest count, that number fell to 28,429, dipping below the number scientists estimate is needed to keep the population going. This drastic decline indicates the migration is collapsing. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce in June whether its scientists think the monarch qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

We love butterflies but tally them in transactional and utilitarian terms. We say that losing so many is dangerous because in their life stages from pupa to imago they provide food for creatures higher up the food chain. Fewer butterflies means fewer birds, and we need birds, in part, to help control other insects, like mosquitoes, that carry dangerous diseases. We acknowledge that the biotic world only works by way of the networks that connect each species in a web of life. We must take account of our role in the demise of this species, a consequence of habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides and herbicides, if only to help us understand how to rebuild the population.

We can still muster hope for these butterflies. We can rally against the chemicals we use to kill insects not only in big agricultural operations but also in local backyards. We can create more habitats by gardening with native plants. We can stay keenly attuned to development plans in our communities and insist that they include sustaining habitat for other living things. In partnership with their Ph.D. brethren, citizen scientists can measure efforts against results and amend strategies accordingly. We would not know the extent of the monarch decline without citizen science, and we will continue to need these volunteers if we hope to make a difference for butterflies and other species in trouble.

We ended our day in the yard of one Bolinas resident who relishes the yearly return of monarchs to his tall trees. He was happy to share the love. He explained how mowing his grass at specific times of the year supported the growth of native grasses and flowers, food sources for the overwintering butterflies. “This is a spiritual place,” he told us, “so I have to take care of it.” We sat down on his lawn to watch the sky around us fluttering with wings. The orange cloud shifted this way and that in the sunlight, the very soul of nature, still present.

Mary Ellen Hannibal is the author of “Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.”

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Snowy Full(ish) Moon

My mom tells me that tomorrow is a super blue blood moon—that means that it’s the second full moon in a month, AND a full lunar eclipse. It has happened only once in the last 152 years! The moon looks plenty full tonight, and on such a chilly night, Florence is looking very warm and toasty, thanks to her newly repaired Dyson Heat + Cool Link.

Charlotte

Today, I was driving to work and there was this big spider 🕷 that had crawled out of my side mirror and as I was driving down the 400 at 70mph, this little spider was getting really tossed around but was hanging in for dear life. He was getting thrown so violently, I initially thought there was no possible way he could be alive.

I pulled over, rolled down my window and stuck out my finger to help. He immediately crawled on to my finger and stopped. I brought him into the car and put him on my knee for a moment and let him catch his breath and get his wits about him.

After a few minutes, he started spinning a little web on my knee. We talked about it and decided that my knee probably wasn’t the best place for that, and I suggested he explore my passenger seat instead. He crawled around and found a very nice spot between the center console and the seatbelt clicker thing.

After 20 minutes or so of sitting at the side of the road, we continued driving. I commented how surprised I was that he a survival instinct and how difficult it must have been to hold on despite the wind. He made a good point that the wind for him, would be relative to me being in 800mph winds. I told him how impressed I was that he was able to hang on and he explained that the tensile strength of the silk he is able to spin helped him to hold on. Regardless, I found his will and ability to survive impressive.

We chatted for the rest of the ride and decided that it might make better sense to live inside the car. So for the time being, my car is +1 spider.

Unsafe: Delaware Park

Police and Fire vehicles like to zoom through Delaware Park on the ring road. Keep in mind that the fire truck weighs about 100x the amount of a bicyclist.

Shame, shame, shame. There is enough to go around in Buffalo.

Just over two years ago, Maksym Sugorovskiy was killed in a tragic accident in Delaware Park in Buffalo. His mother and sister were also injured. The story broke my heart, and each and every day when I run through Delaware Park, I say a silent prayer for little Maksym and his family.

The tragedy led to immediate—and unprecedented—political action by Governor Andrew Cuomo who downgraded the 198 expressway to a parkway and overnight changed the speed limit from 50 to 30. Neighbourhood proponents still stunned by the tragedy were pleased with the action. Later that summer, the newly qualified “parkway” was re-stripped, and crash barricades were installed along the park-side of the corridor. The New York State Department of Transportation promised to review the parkway and has since put forth a number of lacklustre plans that have been met with public disgust.

The problem is complex and it’s growing.

The first round of shame goes to Gov. Cuomo who scored political points for the immediate downgrade of the 198 and then never made another peep about it.

The second round of shame goes to the grossly disinterested, disrespectful, and disengaged DOT.

The third round of shame goes to the City and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Governor Cuomo mistakenly handed off the redesign of the 198 to the state DOT, which is both woefully under qualified and grossly negligent in its street design ability. Their significant failures litter the Western New York landscape and—frankly—make the streets of Western New York less and less safe. NYS DOT seems unable to plan, in any comprehensive manner. They approach planning as a street-by-street approach, which has compounded the problems surrounding the park. I could name a thousand examples across the region (and specifically around Delaware Park) but the dangerous concrete medians installed along neighbouring Main Street in the Parkside district are one example. These medians were installed with the intent of slowing traffic on Main Street. Instead, they have slowed traffic and provided an unsafe obstacle for motorists on icy and poorly lit roads to hit time and time again. The result is that rather than tool along Main Street at 30mph in stop-and-go traffic, frustrated motorists hemorrhage from Main Street to residential side streets to zoom by (and through stop signs) at 50mph in search of a “short cut” to their destination.

Vehicles race through Delaware Park ring road which is poorly striped and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A vehicle taking a short cut through Delaware Park to bypass Parkside Avenue.
This parkway in Estonia has clearly delineated lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Olmsted Conservancy vehicles regularly drive large vehicles on pedestrian paths and thoroughfares.
Few safety precautions are taken by the Olmsted Conservancy. Most activities would not stand up to OSHA muster.
A leaky Olmstead Conservancy vehicle left behind puddles of oil, a hazard for children, pets, pedestrians, and runners.
More puddles from a different vehicle on a different day.

This problem was compounded when much needed traffic calming measures were implemented to Parkside Avenue, adjacent to Delaware Park. Yes, the bump-outs and narrowed lanes have slowed traffic. Parkside (for a two block stretch) is undoubtedly safer as a result. The problem is that the parallel streets have become high-speed thoroughfares for speed-demon drivers in the neighbourhood. Likewise, since the traffic calming measures have been implemented on Parkside, the 198, and Main Street, speedy motorists have taken to using the Delaware Park ring road itself as a high speed shortcut from Agassiz Circle to Colvin through Delaware Park. Perhaps most disturbing is that this shortcut seems to be favoured by Olmsted Conservancy, Police and Fire vehicles zooming through the park to avoid traffic as well as private speeders alike. So, while we seemingly have endless press about ridiculous proposals to build a golf course in Delaware Park, the real issues of pedestrian and park patron safety goes completely unaddressed and unmentioned.

Problem zones in and around the park are circled in red. Issues with the 198 are not addressed in this graphic.

The re-design of the 198 has been mired in controversy and has been more than adequately covered in other fora, but I will add my disgust, disappointment, and disdain to the ever-growing chorus of Buffalonians when I say that the most recent public hearing for the 198 redesign hosted at the Olmsted School by the DOT was disgusting. The event was poorly planned, with three DOT officials sitting at a long table on stage while the regional director talked at the audience. The three adjunct DOT officials said nothing, as they played games and laughed at funny social media posts on their smart phones. Safety is no laughing matter and their behaviour was grossly disrespectful to local residents and to the memory Maksym who lost his young life due in part to their inaction and inattentiveness. If Governor Cuomo truly cares about Western New York, beyond a quick political score following an unspeakable tragedy, these three men would (and should) immediately find themselves unemployed in light of their callous and brazen breech of public trust.

Like so many building, design, zoning, and planning issues in New York State, the problem is a decentralized decision making structure which aims for granular approval but misses the big picture. Why not take a neighbourhood approach to traffic calming and safety planning? More likely than not because the streets in question are a combination of State, City, and Park streets. (County streets it seems, in Erie County are, for the most part and in sharp constraint, impeccably serviced, always striped, resurfaced regularly, and are in decent repair.) When the State DOT implemented traffic calming measures on the Parkside stretch of Main Street, the 198, and Parkside, the City should have stepped in and added traffic calming—speed bumps, bump-outs, enhanced striping, rumble strips, or some combination—to the neighbouring residential side streets. They didn’t. The City and the Olmsted Conservancy should have taken the time and money to add basic safety measures such as speed bumps and stripes the ring road in Delaware Park. They didn’t.

Central Park in New York City has clearly separated and delineated lines for runners, bikers, pedestrians, and vehicles along with speed bumps every 1/4 mile.

It seems that most every other city in the world has recognized that painting stripes is a cheap and easy way at calming traffic as well as enhancing safety for bicyclists and other motorists. Despite this basic tenet of road design, the City of Buffalo remains asleep at the switch with more road surface than not suffering from faded lines, poorly discernible striping, and worse—roads with no stripping at all. I mean, seriously, how much can a can of paint and some time cost? I remember observing a work crew in St. Louis—prison work release folks—repainting stripes and arrows on the roadways. Why can’t New York State enact a similar measure? Are the citizens of New York not worthy of safe roads?

At the very least, the Olmsted Conservancy should be unabashedly ashamed of their lack of action. Despite several grants to improve road and path conditions in the park, absolutely no improvements have been made over the past two years. Again, seriously, how much could it take to stripe the 2.5km ring road around Delaware Park? Unlike sister Olmsted Conservancies like Central Park in New York City, or the Emerald Neckless in Boston, the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy has opted for the path of least resistance and inaction.

The resultant negligence opens the city and the conservancy to significant liability when the next eminently preventible tragedy happens and is patently inexcusable.

Call upon your elected officials—state, city, and local—to make your voice heard on this important issue. You wouldn’t settle for a uncooked pizza if it were delivered to your house… why would you settle for unsafe roads in your neighbourhood?

Allium

I absolutely love these flowers. They are Allium which derives from the Latin word for garlic! They are actually in the onion, chive, garlic family and the flowers resemble the smaller purple flowers that appear in chives. The flowers don’t smell like onions or garlic, though. 


From Wikipedia: Allium is a genus of monocotyledonous flowering plants that includes hundreds of species, including the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic, and the type species for the genus is Allium sativum which means “cultivated garlic”.

I bought a bag of Allium bulbs at Aldi last year and stuck them in the ground around Florence. This year, much to my surprise, I was surrounded by beautiful allium blooms that I just couldn’t help but to pick some. 

DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber 

Build this DIY solar heating collector, the Heat Grabber is a “window box” solar collector you can fabricate in under an hour.

This is an interesting project, and one that I wonder about. Perhaps it could be used to heat the area under Florence?

(The image is really grainy, because it’s a really old image from a really old article, but apparently, this works!)

Read the entire article and see plans at: DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber – DIY – MOTHER EARTH NEWS