Local enthusiasts ramp up efforts to aid endangered monarch butterfly

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The beautiful and colorful Monarch Butterfly is known for its incredible and generational migration from Mexico to the Midwest and back. But the species is in a lot of trouble since being added to the list of endangered species this summer.

A group of local enthusiasts have for years made helping the endangered insect a priority, and are now hoping the news spurs more to act.

"It’s a four-generation strategy. In Mexico after wintering they start north. That generation lays eggs and dies and then that next generation makes their way up through the Midwest. There are three more generations that occur. And the fourth one, they call it the super generation, flies back and makes the entire trip 2,500 miles [back] to Mexico," says Barb Agnew, founder and director of the Friends of the Monarch Trail. For several years, Barb has dedicated time to help preserve the population of Monarchs.

"We have been preserving and restoring an area of land here on the county grounds that provides rooting sites for the migrating Monarch Butterfly," said Agnew.

The trail is an 11-acre plot of land in Wauwatosa maintained as a hub for Monarchs making their way back to Mexico during their September migration.

"They can fuel up, they can rest at night. In September we have cold nights, in here its warmer. You've got radiant heat, you've got a canopy, you've got wind protection. So, this space, preserving it is critical to their migration south, they need these areas," said Agnew.

But what makes Milwaukee such a necessary stop for these butterflies? According to head of Zoology at the Milwaukee Public Museum Nick Dowdy it's Wisconsin's native plants.

"Milwaukee is an interesting environment for the Monarch and that really rests on the prairie habitat that we have around us. And we have this beautiful prairie landscape which includes plants like the Milkweed," said Dowdy.

However, both Dowdy and Agnew have noticed a terrifying trend. Monarch populations keep shrinking and shrinking each year. So much so the National Union for the Conservation of Nature placed them on its red list of threatened species in July. The designation means the Monarch is now endangered.

"The population of Monarchs has gone down dramatically in the past 20 years. Monarchs are a kind of an indicator species in that if Monarchs are declining this fast, how many other things are also declining?" said Agnew.

"There's over a million species of insects that are likely to be out there and facing similar kinds of threats as the Monarch is," said Dowdy. "We just see climate change, habitat loss, herbicide and pesticide use taking up a big toll on insect populations."

"We've lost many acres out here do to development and to the basins or construction," said Agnew.

Agnew says the construction of new buildings, developments, and or roadways have contributed to decimating natural sights where Monarchs would usually stop in their migration routes.

"Monarchs are the recognized representative of all of the other pollinators. We love them, we know what they are. They're iconic but preserving Monarch is in effect going to help so many other pollinators," said Dowdy.

But don't fly off the handle. There's many things Milwaukeeans can do to help preserve Monarch populations such as eliminating herbicides and pesticides from personal gardens and planting Milkweed.

Dowdy says the preservation of monarchs means the preservation of other important pollinators.

"Helping the monarch could potentially help all those other insects as well and we need to keep that in mind," said Dowdy.

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