Saving The Monarch

For the past two years, I’ve been gathering monthly with a group of diverse and talented women. Within the group, there is a doctor, lawyer, political consultant, financial advisor, non-profit manager, artist, director/actress and me - rancher/cook. We discuss all kinds of topics, offer advice and get updated on each other's lives.

Monarch ButterflyAt one gathering, as we swirled our glasses of wine, chatting and waiting for our hors d’oeuvres to arrive, one of my friends announced that she had just joined the Sierra Club. She asked if we were we aware that the Monarch butterflies were under severe threat and suggested that we get involved to save them.

Prairie MilkweedThe discussion went on with ways to do just that. We’d plant butterfly gardens, put seed packets together for distribution and so on. I sat listening to most of the ideas and volunteered to seed the recently disturbed acre area around my studio at the ranch with milkweed and other butterfly attracting wildflowers.

PrairieAs I listened to the optimistic ideas that were being discussed with great enthusiasm, my prairie restoration/conservation mind kicked in. Without thinking, and as our food was being served, I opened my mouth and the following pessimistic words fell out, “All of this sounds really great, but we are saying one thing and we are doing another. If we really want to save the Monarch and any other threatened species, we shouldn’t put this (pointing to the food and lifting up my wine glass) in our mouths. All of this food has been grown with some sort of chemical, herbicide, or pesticide and is killing the very thing we want to save. Our suggestions are a band aid approach for an issue that is going to require real change in our everyday choices.”

All went silent as I realized that my preachy words had sucked all of the joy out of our joyful evening. The friend who had joined the Sierra Club said, “Yes - you are probably right, but right now we are hungry and thirsty, so we will do better tomorrow.” I tried to recover from my overly-opinionated comments and said, “That’s all any of us can do," as I reached for the first plate.   

After returning home that evening, I was curious to learn more about the Monarch, so I opened my laptop and did a little research and learned the following:

  • Monarch’s have four life cycles: 1) egg 2) caterpillar 3) chrysalis 4) adult butterfly.
  • There are four generations of the Monarch in one year.
  • An adult Monarch lives for two to six weeks and dies after laying their eggs on their host plant, milkweed.
  • The 4th generation of Monarch's live longer, flying to warmer climates in Mexico, where they hibernate for six to eight months and then start the whole cycle all over again.
  • According to the US Fish & Wildlife, a billion Monarch butterflies have vanished since 1990.
  • The World Wildlife Fund stated that the Upper Midwest grasslands have been drastically converted into soy bean and corn fields, which require large amounts of herbicides and weed-resistant chemicals, killing the Monarch’s host plant, milkweed. The female Monarch flutters across these areas in search of a host plant to lay her eggs, but their habitat has been wiped off from this landscape as 97% of milkweed has been eradicated from these areas.

My next click on the computer was to a nursery that specialized in prairie wildflower seeds, where I placed my order for milkweed and other favorite butterfly loving plants and flowers. I sowed the seeds last spring and fall... fingers crossed that I will see some results this year. What else can we do? Giving up isn’t an option. So... together, we’ll continue to do the best we can. We’ll educate each other, plant butterfly gardens, and when we can, eat sustainably.

BTW: March 14th is National Learn About Butterflies Day! At Wild Idea Buffalo Co. we can't imagine a world without butterflies! We would like to do more in supporting the recovery efforts of the Monarch and other important pollinators. So, today, Wild Idea will contribute 10% of our meat sales to the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Conservation Fund. Together one bite at a time, we can make a difference!

Shop Wild Idea Buffalo meat products and help Save the Monarch!


Learn more on how you can help here:

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  • We are working hard here in northern New Mexico to help the Monarchs. Since the milkweed plant (any/all) are host plants for the Monarch, we are planting and seeding in lots of milkweeds. My favorite is Asclepias tuberosa, aka Butterfly Weed. It’s the bright orange one! Prairie Moon Nursery has many plants and seeds for a variety of milkweeds, many of which can succeed in South Dakota as well as New Mexico, and parts between and on either side! The Monarch population has plummeted here in Los Alamos, NM. I only saw one last year. Just fyi – the bee population has also done a nosedive. I know WIB is helping with this; I hope anyone reading this will help as well!

    Liz Aicher
  • One thing people can do to help is to collect and clean milkweed seed in the fall and send it to organizations that help disseminate it in those areas of the Monarch’s migration corridor where milkweed is scarce. Sixteen states within this corridor have developed the Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy. The overall goal of the strategy is to increase the amount of milkweed stems throughout the migration corridor in order to achieve viable over-wintering populations in Mexico. In 2017 “Milkweed for Monarchs” was established by The Prairie Enthusiasts and is a program that was put forth to TPE members, partners, and the public to encourage them to help by collecting milkweed seed. If you’re interested in becoming a part of this grassroots approach, TPE puts out a blog with more information on how you can help (this information came from a blog that was put out last fall). Here is the link: Here’s to happy seed collecting :)

    Judy Williamson
  • Barbers Kingsolver wrote a wonderful novel about this, Flight Behavior, and National Geographic wrote a beautiful article and did a photo essay as the plight of monarchs was in its infancy. There are people saving mountainsides by preserving the resting places in Virginia and now you and your friends will add to the palnting of food sources along the flyway in the prairies. There is so much information with visuals out there. I am waiting for your photo journal from the migration this year. Bless you Jill, for becoming part of the solution.

    Toni Hamner
  • Jill, you may already know about San Antonio’s efforts in support of the Monarchs. they need special help from us on their long path to Canada and return to Mexico. an acre of wildflowers here and there spread across the plains certainly will have a positive effect. here are a few sites that may help you, even though centered in Texas.

    thank you for sharing your love of delicate nature at its most imperiled.

    Blake O'Quinn
  • Many years ago I saw a special about how chickens were raised and then discovered my young daughter was way ahead on adolescent development from where she should be, so I stopped buying chickens and beef treated with hormones and transitioned to grass fed chickens and buffalo. Then I read Dan’s book and became a customer, I was so happy to be a recipient of his ranching practices. We keep our meat intake down and buy organic food, our families health is well worth the extra cost as well as the health of the workers on the farms.
    Yes, I’ve been growing milkweed for a few years, but haven’t seen any monarchs on them yet. I think I need to add more! I think I’ll order milkweed seeds for my book clubs, too. That’s a great idea you had.
    Thanks for doing what you do!

    Julie Kiene
  • Good work! I just attended the Pollinator Summit last week in Minneapolis. It was quite the event! My dad taught us to always preserve the milkweed in the pasture when I was kid. We’ve always had monarchs, so I guess my dad was ahead of his time. Tell Dan I said hello, we met at Belwin Nature Center years ago at their Buffalo release. I now work at Carpenter Nature Center just down the road. We will be continuing to work on our pollinator work here!


  • Thanks Jill. This is one of those wonderful situations where education and some small activities can have a significant impact. Keep up the good milkweed work! We replanted a few flower beds in a 1/2 acre suburban Ohio backyard with 6 species of native milkweed (Thanks Prairie Moon!). We brooded chrysalids and 5th instar caterpillars in back porch screen houses. We documented 92 adult monarchs the first season as a result of that planting. Lots of other butterfly visitors as well. As small cluster of milkweeds, either planted or just allowed to grow wild, can have a big impact.

    Rob Tolley
  • I appreciated the story of butterflies … and by extension … the loss of real, unadulterated foods. Some thoughts on bison, milkweed and agribusiness ranching. Most every rancher today, whether cattle or bison, raises these grazers in segmented groups. All because this is how the industrial packers want that carcass to be uniform and consistent. Thus calves are weaned from mothers, stockers (young animals are grouped together as that age groups entirety) and cow-calf herds. Bulls are relegated to a lifein bull pens or bull pastures. So far from natures extended family make up. Stress builds up and then the meat is full of cortisol and lactic acid fluids. Not good. But beyond this, those weaned and isolated young en’s don’t learn how to graze. No learning from their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and great grand parents. In other words nothing is passed on from generation. Grass yes, an instinct, but harvesting of broadleaves, the identifier of grazers in the word, Herbivores, becomes a hit or miss learning experience for agri communities livestock. In the end all have to end up in feed lots to try and make up for the nutrients lost … because those grazers don’t know what to eat. Thus all those herbicides, pesticides, poison coated seeds going into the ground to feed those dysfunctional grazers. Environmental pollution is the result… as Jill points out. So how does all this relate to butter flies and milk weeds? Because harvesting by functional grazers means those animals eat only certain parts of a milk weed plant.. and only at a certain time of that plants… and butterflies life cycle. Thus in our 300 head bison head, one sees a whorl of leaves eaten maybe 2/3rd the way up from the ground. Then later the fluffy seed heads. So, not only the butterflies, but the other insects who suck all that milkweed sap up benefit. Compare this to agribusiness grazer models of ranching and those intensive paddock grazing systems means every milkweed gets trampled into the dirt and a slurry of cow shit. Not good for butterflies. The only hope is those cattle … or bison … are not on that paddock when the milkweeds have to straighten those crushed stems .. and hopefully time to flower again. The end result of ecological grazing? A lot more milk weeds and butterflies are on our own lands. A final note to those agribiz packers… Uniform & Consistent…an exercise in compromise.

    bob jackson
  • Thank you, Jill, for keeping us all honest and with a true perspective.

    It is much more difficult to live a small footprint life day to day, consistently, than it is to recycle when you can and/or think about the value of composting. We really don’t do the best we can. We do the best we are willing to while maintaining a lifestyle that doesn’t demand it.

    We all better step up our game. Planting a migration stopover for Monarchs is an essential and beautiful way to start. Buying produce from our local farmer’s markets this summer is another.

    Of course, eating the meat that best nourishes us is basic. I’m putting my spring order in today for bison. Thanks for keeping us thinking about how we can do better.

  • Well, my overly-opinionated suggestion would be to vote wisely and speak to your legislators about the importance of the butterfly sanctuary on the Texas/Mexico border that would be destroyed by a “wall” that the majority of American citizens do not want.

  • Your observation was a real gut-shot! It’s the kind of thing I am often tempted to say, but squelch for lack of deeper understanding of the entirety of the problem doused with an ample serving of guilt!!! Your post inspires me to do .. my best. Thanks!


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