APRIL 12, 2018

Monarch Chronicles

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.

      – Aldo Leopold, from Round River, “Conservation”


A few notes on Citizen Science based on the upcoming Monarch Conservation Science Project training at UW Arboretum…

Many instances of the need for human re-intervention in species monitoring exist.  As Leopold alludes to in the above in his more informal definition of conservation, it seems a peculiar but common situation that we might find ourselves in when the very human causes of various species trouble might be alleviated only by the very hand that caused it.  Pollinators simply fall into this category because it is the decline in habitat by human development, agriculture, or abundant chemical applications that now necessitate as many counter-means for reparation.  Monarch butterflies, among many other pollinators, need the variety of milkweed species to survive and propagate, yet milkweed availability has declined as a result of its precarious existence as a perceived common weed or noxious plant that might be mowed, gouged, eradicated or sprayed.  The irony is the difference between its extremely critical necessity for the very species that are built for the sake of pollinating, and its perception by only some, but whom hold the tools.  Here is where Leopold’s early concept of the land ethic seems to enter again like the most obvious of fundamental truths: we cannot fully care for the land until we begin to see it as community not commodity.  To the land developer, the highway crew, the cattle rancher, and the chemical company, a milkweed species is an expendable part of the landscape – eradicate it where it does not lend itself to efficiency or ‘good numbers.’  In the meantime, although our highway shoulders might reveal a more manageable space, monarchs in the midwest might lose half of their habitat.  The concepts of bee or butterfly decline might be seen as a modifiable algorithm which is solved by more chemistry and more modification; where the real answers, based on life subsistence itself, needs to be all things conservation: identification, education, pause, plan, progress and, in this case, elimination of the very practices that have led to the double intervention by the human hand. Certain biological processes must be identified as pure priorities.  Pollination is not one that we can solve long term by artificial chemistry. When the bees are gone we’ve lost our bio-engines. Citizen scientists can help to an unprecedented degree because the size of the problems must be met by the size of the citizenry – just as one heroic marine biologist cannot save the Gulf of Mexico from its abundant chemistry, the lone conservationist cannot save the monarchs.  Leopold’s call for a land ethic was in many ways a means to save our natural resources from ourselves, at a time when highways had taken over to form auto routes into otherwise pristine parks and the dust bowl was the easiest evidence of poor agricultural practices.  Today the problems are far more difficult to see than a car or a sandstorm.  Chemicals that barely a microscope can glance may cause the demise of two of our more sparkling, and vital, treasure species.  It might take the thousands of eyes of citizens to watch where nobody else is.