Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 15, 2013

Local man looks out for butterflies

TRAVERSE CITY — Norm Brown is concerned about monarch butterflies.

Every year, he raises them at his home at the Village at Bay Ridge Senior Living Community in Traverse City in an effort to spread the word about the need for conservation.

“The monarch population has been in a constant decline,” he said. “I always feel that we shouldn’t lose any species if we can do something to save it. The monarchs are in a position where they need our help.”

Brown contends overwintering monarch population for 2012-2013 was the smallest on record. A number of factors contributed to the decline, but one of the biggest problems is the decrease of milkweed plants — the exclusive food source for monarch larvae.

Widespread use of herbicides along roadsides and farmland, especially in the Corn Belt, is a big factor, he said.

Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the U.S. and Canada to mountains in central Mexico where they spend the winter months. Brown said it takes four generations of monarchs to make it that distance and without milkweeds in their breeding areas monarchs would not be able to survive.

“They have a long and difficult journey. The fourth-generation monarchs travel nearly 3,000 miles to make it to Mexico,” he said.

Brown would like others to get involved in developing Monarch Way Stations: plantings of milkweeds and other nectar-producing plants in their gardens.

“It’s like the old stage coach days where people stopped for water, food and rest. Areas where milkweed thrive are areas where monarchs can stop and get strength to travel on their journey,” he said. “I think we can make up for the losses of habitat by people planting milkweed in their gardens.”

Brown and his wife Audrey became interested in helping the monarchs when they attended a program at the Kingsley Public Library. The class taught them the process of tagging monarchs and they found it so interesting, they immediately wanted to get involved.

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