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Help save the Monarch butterfly - stop mowing road sides

February 15, 2014
Dave Uphoff
Most of us are pretty worn out from one of the coldest and snowiest winters. In fact, this winter is on a path that could well make it the coldest winter on record. Being house bound one tends to dream of warm weather with nature in full bloom.

Longing for warmer weather I recalled one of my favorite memories of Mother Nature - returning to Illinois 40 years ago and witnessing the abundance of monarch butterflies. Sadly, that experience is becoming more remote as the population of monarch butterflies has been drastically reduced over the years.

Another lost experience is seeing honey run down the bark of the catalpa tree next to my house from the bee hive high in the tree. Those bees are long gone. There is much evidence that the bee die off is due to chemicals used on our crops. Researchers are working on that issue but don't expect the cessation of chemical use.

We do know, however, why there is a reduction of monarch butterflies and that is the loss of a plant from which they receive nourishment, namely the lowly milkweed, which has been chemically and physically eliminated from the countryside. Monarch caterpillars rely almost entirely on the milkweed to receive their nourishment. However, due to herbicide use, the mowing of roadsides and the loss of pasture land in the Midwest, its population has diminished considerably.

One of my saddest experiences of living in the Minonk area is to see the loss of habitat for wildlife. When I was young, the countryside had hedge rows lining every field, clover fields for hay, pasture land for cattle, fence rows, orchards and gardens. Almost all of that is gone now, including the habitat for milkweeds to grow - the result of converting to chemical farming on a big scale which resulted in the loss of that habitat.

I am not naive enough to think farmers will start planting trees again around their fields, although I wish they would as it would increase wildlife cover, absorb carbon dioxide from the environment, help prevent soil erosion and generally enable Central Illinois to recapture some of its former scenic beauty.

However, there is one thing farmers can do which will increase the monarch population and that is to stop mowing the road sides. By not mowing the road sides, not only can milkweeds grow again, it also will enable pheasants and other nesting birds a safe harbor for hatching their young. In addition, an enormous amount of energy and money can be saved. This also applies to our state roads. Instead of having state workers mow along the road, have them plant bee friendly wildflowers and milkweed along the roads. Some states are already doing that. To learn more on what is being done to save the monarch butterfly, click on this link.

As I approach the twilight years of my life, I am becoming more concerned about what my generation is leaving behind . To me life is about enjoying the beauty Mother Nature has to offer. We have an obligation to make sure future generations can enjoy the wonders of Mother Nature which our older generation has experienced but which we are gradually losing because we are not good stewards of the land.

How many things can you think of that by not doing something you are helping Mother Nature? Well, by not mowing the road sides, farmers and state workers will not only save time and money, they will help save the monarch butterfly, provide wildlife cover and restore the beauty of prairie grass, prairie flowers and yes, the milkweed, to the country side again.

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