HORNELL — It’s said more often than it is believed, but sometimes, community efforts really do have positive global consequences. In Hornell on Saturday, hundreds turned out to learn more about what they can do to save the Monarch Butterfly.
Hornell Partners for Growth continued its advocacy efforts by bringing back the Hornell Monarch Festival for its second year. Each year, festival proceeds go to purchase perennial plants for Shawmut Park that can support breeding butterflies.
“The population has gone down 50 percent in the last two years, so we’re in a state of emergency in regards to losing the migration altogether,” said local Monarch advocate Robyn Baty.
Through the University of Kansas and Monarch Watch, Baty tags butterflies that are then tracked by farmers in Mexico.
“We put little round stickers on them with serial numbers, and Monarch Watch pays farmers in Mexico to catch them and record the data,” she said.
The biggest problem Monarch Butterflies face is the rapid destruction of their habitat, according Baty. Herbicides used in agriculture, along with other human activity have been blamed for the rapid decrease.
To sustain the population locally, Baty said it is critical to protect their breeding grounds that center around their primary food sources.
“Milkweed provides the food source for caterpillars, and a nectar source for the butterflies, so planting some is kind of a double bonus,” she said.
The planting of milkweed is important, but not the only strategy being undertaken at the park. The butterflies are also attracted to a number of other common plants, including echinacea, Mexican and regular sunflowers, zinnias or anything else that can provide a great nectar source.
The efforts not only help Monarch Butterflies specifically, but also other pollinators crucial to agriculture.
“Monarchs are more talked about in the media because they are more visible than a little bumble bee, but really they’re all connected,” she said. “When you’re building a habitat for monarchs it also supports other pollinators that support our ecosystem.”
Baty again drove home the significance of the problem.
“Right now, down in Mexico, the habitat is down to about 4 acres and it used to be hundreds of acres, so we really are in a critical state right now,” she said.
Public education is key to rebuilding the population is critical, according to Baty, and the festival has provided a way to foster public knowledge of the problem.
“The more people who know how to re-establish a habitat the better. Even if you were to plant five milkweed plants in your yard that would help to sustain the population enough to grow it,” she said.
Baty provides monarch caterpillars and eggs for families to raise until they are ready to be released, increasing their chances of surviving until migration in the fall.
“We have absolutely grown since last year, and I hope it will be an event that surrounding towns flock to for years to come,” Baty said.
“This is my favorite event of the year. It’s the biggest cause event that HPG does,” said HPG Executive Director Shelly Stevens.
However, the event may not have happened this year without the extra efforts of Baty.
Robyn had a really hard time getting a hold of caterpillars and eggs this year, which is a testament to why we need to have this event,” she said. “We talked about getting the caterpillars shipped all the way from Florida.”
“I wish we could have had 400 to 500 caterpillars, but you have to do the best you can when a species is on the verge of extinction,” Stevens said.
However, their efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
“For year two, I think we’ve had a huge impact by getting Shawmut Park certified as an official monarch way-station, and this year we will be planting even more Monarch-friendly plants there,” Stevens said.
For more information about Monarchs and the many efforts going on locally to sustain their populations visit the Monarch Landing Facebook fan page, a community network of Monarch supporters.