One monarch mission: Biologist Chip Taylor urges community to restore milkweed habitat

Monarch butterfly resting on Fennel. Photo by Joyce Cory http://bit.ly/1P8tDG8

A monarch butterfly rests on fennel. Photo by Joyce Cory http://bit.ly/1P8tDG8

COLUMBIA – Chip Taylor envisions millions of acres of milkweed planted across the central United States – maybe even billions of acres.

To Taylor, the milkweed plant isn’t just a flowery “weed” but a lifeline to the seriously declining population of monarch butterflies.

Taylor founded the Monarch Watch, an outreach group that focuses on education, research and the conservation of monarch butterflies. Taylor spoke at a Mizzou Botanic Garden event Thursday, April 23, 2015 to discuss how volunteers can help protect the popular orange-and-black insect.

Attendees of the Mizzou Botanic Garden even received free milkweed plants on Thursday, April 23, 2015. The milkweed habitat has lost more than 24 million acres since 2008. Photo by Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Attendees of the Mizzou Botanic Garden even received free milkweed plants on Thursday, April 23, 2015. The milkweed habitat has lost more than 24 million acres since 2008. Photo by Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Monarchs migrate twice a year from central Mexico through the Midwest into Canada. The butterfly lays its eggs on milkweed plants, which its caterpillars then eat. Taylor’s program discovered that the monarch population has declined over 59 percent this year due to the loss of 24 million acres of milkweed since 2008.

Taylor said that the use of herbicide-resistant genetically modified soybeans, insecticides and biofuels have contributed to this drastic decline of milkweed habitat.

The Mizzou Botanic Garden gave out free milkweed plants to attendees of the event on Thursday, April 23, 2015. The decline in milkweed plants have caused the population of Monarch butterfly to decrease. Photo by Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

The Mizzou Botanic Garden gave out free milkweed plants to attendees of the event on Thursday, April 23, 2015. The decline in milkweed plants have caused the population of Monarch butterfly to decrease. Photo by Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

“This is life fully expressed, trying to survive,” Taylor said.

In a room of more than 100 people in Tate Hall at MU, Taylor urged volunteers, fellow scientist and concerned citizens to do one simple task – plant a milkweed.

Taylor’s goal is to restore 1 million acres of milkweed a year in the north-central region of the U.S. and 2 billion planted within 10 years. Although concerned that he will not have enough seeds to plant such a high number, he is hopeful that with a community effort that the goal will be reached.

He said he knows that it will take more than volunteers to correct this problem but “the highest levels of government” to pitch in and cooperate.

Taylor said that the urban and suburban areas have enthusiastically given support to this cause, but he is still working on more involvement from rural areas.

He also cautioned volunteers to not view the Monarch butterfly as a “problem” but as a way to respect the system that sustains us.

Taylor’s group has also filed a petition to get the Monarch butterfly on the endangered species list.

The Mizzou Botanic Garden also offered free milkweed plants to people who attended the event, as well as a raffle to win a fully-grown milkweed plant.

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