As the number of monarch butterflies continues to decline, scientists have calculated that more than 1.8 billion new milkweed plants need to be planted in order to provide monarchs with enough places to lay their eggs and recover from the brink of extinction.
“‘To put that in context, that’s more than three milkweed plants for every man, woman and child in the United States,’ said Karen Oberhauser, professor and conservation biologist in the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.”
The good news is that milkweed – the only plant monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on – is easy to grow. The milkweed family contains over 100 species. Wisconsin alone has native milkweed species that will grow in wet spots, dry spots, sunny spots, and shady spots. Milkweed is able to thrive in roadside ditches and along the edges of farm fields, and was once so abundant across America that many cities labeled it a noxious weed and forbade property owners to plant it.
Now, attitudes towards milkweed are changing. But attitudes are not enough. If we want to protect monarchs before it’s too late, we need to actually plant milkweed in our yards – and lots of it.
Any native plant nursery should have local milkweed species available as plants and seeds. Right now is the perfect time of year to add some to your garden.
Believe it or not, you can have a natural yard without a yard.
First, if you have a balcony, you can put some native flowers on it. Bees and butterflies will find them!
Second, you may be able to join a community gardening program in your city. Working a plot provides all the benefits of the physical act of gardening (it burns almost as many calories as going to the gym!), plus you get fresh, organic vegetables at virtually no cost.
Third, you may be able to use what is called a landshare. Landsharing is a system in which a person who wants to garden but has no land connects with someone who has land but can’t or doesn’t want to maintain it. Someone in your community may be willing to let you tear up a section of their lawn and plant vegetables or native flowers, in exchange for a share of the produce and a reduced need to do yard work.
Small spaces can make a big difference. Together, we can create a healthier environment for ourselves and other species.
A tree spade is a piece of heavy equipment designed to dig up and move large trees.
Small trees can be dug up and moved by hand, but what is a property owner to do when a mature tree is growing into power lines, standing in the way of a construction project, or casting shade on an area the property owner would prefer to be sunny? Many would respond by pruning the tree, or by destroying it entirely. Often, a better solution is to move it.
Tree spades were invented in the 1800s, and early versions could move trees more than 30 feet tall. Modern-day tree spade operators say they have moved trees well over 100 feet tall, as well as trees with trunks more than 5 feet across.
Tree spade operators don’t really recommend moving trees that large, though, since survival of the transplanted tree depends on whether enough of its root system can be picked up and moved with it. A tree’s root system can be larger than the aboveground part of the tree, but even the biggest tree spades can only dig up a chunk of soil about 7 feet across and 4 feet deep.
Medium-sized trees, though, can be successfully moved, and it is not even very expensive to do so – especially when compared against the cost of destroying the tree, including the loss of the services that a relocated tree could have gone on providing for many years.
By creatively rearranging our yards, we can have room for everything we want, while respecting the needs of many species.
Two weeks ago, the City of Madison made a change to how it will handle emerald ash borer (EAB).
Previously, the City had decided that it would not give any ash trees that were already unhealthy a treatment to protect them from EAB. What the City did not make clear to residents was that any tree located under a power line would be considered unhealthy, regardless of what condition it was actually in.
In thinking about the impact that this decision would have, the City realized that older neighborhoods in Madison, which have overhead power lines, stood to lose a lot of trees, while newer neighborhoods, in which the lines are underground, would be able to keep their trees. Recognizing the immense value of trees to nearby residents – due to trees’ ability to clean the air, reduce flooding, moderate temperatures, increase property values, and so on – the City concluded that it would not be fair for some neighborhoods to lose a lot of trees while others are able to keep their trees.
Based on this conclusion, Madison’s Common Council voted that ash trees under power lines should be treated to protect them from EAB, provided that they meet the City’s other requirements for treatment.
The full text of the resolution can be read here.