Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Protecting Monarchs in the Adirondacks

by Lisa Salamon, Adirondack Pollinator Project


The iconic Monarch butterfly was added to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species in July. The List, known as the IUCN Red List, founded in 1964, is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. It uses a set of precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity.

However, the IUCN List does not trigger protections here in the US—it merely raises awareness. If Monarchs make the US Endangered Species List, all sorts of regulations will kick in, including ones that prioritize milkweed habitat. Since the super generation of Monarchs—the one that flies back to Mexico—is born here in the Adirondacks, their caterpillar plants including swamp milkweed, common milkweed and butterfly weed will all be protected as will their nectar plants. That protection will boost habitat for all pollinators who depend on similar vegetation.   


In making the determination, the IUCN cited that the migratory Monarch Butterfly population has shrunk by as much as 72% over the past decade.


We can only hope that current programs like the Adirondack Pollinator Project, Monarch Watch, Xerces Society, and other pollinator organizations can continue to boost Monarch populations before the iconic butterfly is given endangered status by the US. 


In the Adirondacks, conservation efforts should focus on planting native milkweed/nectar plants, reducing pesticides, and supporting migration by delaying the mowing of roadsides/fields until after a hard frost. We all have a role to play so that this iconic insect makes a full recovery and the Adirondacks can produce a healthy super generation of Monarchs that migrates to Mexico.

Photo at top: Monarch butterfly. Photo provided by Kristina Hartzell, AdkAction Communications and Operations Manager.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com

14 Responses

  1. Greetings, Monarch lovers. I have in my lakeside gardens 500 sq ft containing only milkweed and pollinator plants. Glory of glories, they finallly spawned a brand new Monarch — saw it drying its wings, flapping them to and fro, in a patch of sunlight on path leading to the lake. Would that it escaped its predators and is on its way to wherever it is destined to go..

  2. Helen Eagle says:

    We don’t necessarily need more milkweed. This year two out of six made it out of the chrysalis alive to fly. The ones that didn’t make it were attacked by other insects!

    Very few people realize how vulnerable the Monarch is in all stages of development from ants, wasps, etc. Then there are the viruses etc.

    Not so simple as just growing milkweed.

  3. Veronica a mcmahon says:

    Dont mow the fields adjacent to roads at all. Save money (tax dollars). Reduce pollution. Save monarchs. Duh.

  4. Joe Kozlina says:

    Growing milkweed is the first step in the survival of the monarch. With out that there is no monarch. Also why do we still mow our roadsides and highway medians? All that land could nurture much wild plants and insects. It uses so much fossil fuel, dumps tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and costs a lot of taxpayer money just to do what you can do once a year in the winter months when no bugs or insects are alive and accomplish the same thing. Unless we just like the look of a mowed field or road edge. The cost of that is too high. Stop cutting and killing wild things!

  5. JC says:

    How can we get the state and county road crews to stop mowing wide right aways that would otherwise allow shelter for milkweed to grow. Also there is the problem of wealthy outsiders buying up old farm fields and putting mega mansions on them and then mowing flat the surrounding abandoned fields to look like 20 acre golf courses. A lot of butterfly habitat is being extinguished around here by these ignorant practices.

  6. Tom Vawter says:

    I’m happy to report that, for years, the Highway Department in the Town of Webb, Herkimer Co., here in the Adirondack Reserve, has postponed fall mowing of milkweed patches at roadsides and in Town-owned fields until after a hard freeze.

  7. Boreas says:

    Allowing milkweed to proliferate along roadways is likely a good practice, but I have to wonder if it is offset by increased adult mortality from being hit by cars. Anyone know of any studies on this?

    Another thing I have learned is planting/growing milkweed “patches” has some downsides. More than just a few milkweed plants close together attracts more predators – both to adults and larvae. Ants, aphids, and other insects are attracted to larger patches of milkweed, and some will kill or parasitize monarch larvae. If you are trying to grow milkweed, try to scatter the plants over a larger area rather than concentrating them in a small one. Monocultures are to be avoided. And don’t forget to scatter nectar species as well for food for adults!

    • Joe Kozlina says:

      I dont think any restrictions should be put on anyone growing milkweed. It naturally grows in a monoculture on its own. Any predators is a plus for other natural insects and the natural processess. Any where you can grow it do it. As for plantings on roadsides the mortality rate is better than no milkweed on the roadsides. I am glad to hear the town of Webb is aware of the benefits of natural roadsides and fields.

      • Boreas says:


        I said nothing about restricting the planting of milkweed. Plant away!! I simply recommended sowing or planting in a scattered fashion as it would be found in nature, which makes it less likely for predator species to target caterpillars or adults laying eggs. Just something to consider when trying to help Monarchs specifically. I disagree that milkweed grows naturally as a monoculture. It typically grows in disturbed areas and competes with multitudes of other species that also populate disturbed soils. A natural monoculture of milkweed, or any plant species, would be the exception, not the rule.

        Milkweed is certainly a very important part of the lifecycle of Monarchs, but is unlikely the main reason for the recent crash in the population. Saturating the environment with insecticides is likely a more tenacious danger to the existence of many insect species which must maintain a proper balance of food, predators and prey to remain healthy.

        • Joe Kozlina says:

          Points well taken. On my organic farm in pa. the patches in my hay fields are somewhat of a monoculture in that they are thick and wild at the moment. As we cut each year they seem to come back thicker and move around the fields.

          • Boreas says:

            Milkweed does tend to propagate via runners which can make them fairly dense in localized spots where they have little competition.

  8. JT says:

    In the St. Lawrence Valley, many of the road sides are now dominated by the invasive Wild Parsnip and they are not cutting them until later in the summer. I wish they would cut them early before the plant goes to seed. This would help to thin out the population and favor Milkweed and other native plants..
    When my neighbor cuts my fields for hay early in the season, the Milkweed does quite well after the early cut.

    • Helen Eagle says:

      Agree totally. When the fields were cut early the Monarch we plentiful, then field put into a “set a side” and mowed once a year, the population dropped.
      Fields left out of production quickly grow brush and trees.

  9. Laurie Thornton says:

    We have huge field at our camp in south colton of milkweed that we let grow specific for the butterfiles.

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