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Video Produced by Rachel Womack The Monarch Trail

Karen Oberhauser

Presentation July 14th 2018

Video Produced by Rachel Womack
Video Produced by Rachel Womack

James Price

Presentation July 14th 2018

Susan Carpenter

Presentation July 14th 2018

Video Produced by Rachel Womack

The past few Septembers, after years of struggle and hope and fear, we were thrilled that a couple of nights each season, hundreds of monarchs showed up to prove that the Monarch Trail on the County Grounds was still a magnet for our magnificent orange and black friends. This autumn, with the migration just underway, we are already slack-jawed and stupefied as thousands of monarchs showed up over the Labor Day weekend turning some of our trees into images of the Mexican preserves in miniature. Monarch butterflies, experts at predicting weather, took to the skies on Thursday morning when the wind shifted around from the Northeast.  This early wave will hopefully be a harbinger of more to come. Thank you all, monarch mavens and movers! We are doing what we set out to do. We are restoring the needed habitat to welcome waves of winged magic. Please enjoy videographer Rachel Womack's short film of the "Migration Overture, 2018."

By Eddee Daniel

Grant Report Park People Award Migration Article Directions To Trail Maps The Milkweed Blog Brochure Media Links Trail Map

Story and photos by Eddee Daniel

Photo essay: The magic of the monarchs

Our Story Video

Monarch butterflies in Wauwatosa: where to see them (

'No milkweed, no monarch:' Here's how Wisconsin residents can help the quickly declining monarch butterfly population

Barb Agnew has always loved butterflies. 

So much so that people call her "Butterfly Barb."

Sadly, one of her favorite butterflies — the monarch — is quickly declining in number. 

The eastern United States monarch population has declined by more than 80% in the last 20 years, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

But a statewide and regional effort, combined with the efforts of citizens like Agnew, is looking to help curb the decline.

    'No milkweed, no monarch' 


Monarchs are back in Wisconsin this summer, after migrating from Mexio. You can see a large number of them in Wauwatosa at the County Grounds Park.

Agnew is with the Friends of the Monarch Trail, a group dedicated to protecting a pocket of land in the northeastern quadrant of the grounds.

Agnew said many monarchs die on the trip to El Rosario, Mexico, which is where they winter. They need pockets of places to rest and refuel on their journey. 

One of those pockets is at the Country Grounds. Agnew said there's an annual roosting site for the fall migration there. 

Every spring, the Friends of the Monarch Trail hosts a milkweed plant sale for the community. 

Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat. 

"If you take away the host plant, you literally annihilate the butterfly," Agnew said. 

"No milkweed, no monarch." 

This year, the plant sold out in 27 minutes during the annual sale. 

So the Friends of the Monarch Trail hosted a second plant sale for the first time ever. 

"It's a tall order," Agnew said about increasing the number of monarchs. "But I think people are actually doing their part by planting milkweed and nectar sources for migration."

Effects on the food chain

Agnew said the decrease of monarch butterflies should be concerning to many. 

"They take the same habitat as pollinators, and so, if a creature as strong as a monarch butterfly is being devastated and their numbers are declining that quickly, because of loss of habitat and pesticides, imagine what it is doing to the needed pollinators to our food," Agnew said. 

"If insects are declining, birds are declining and on up the food chain. It becomes a very scary place," Agnew added. 

Decline is incredibly alarming'

Brenna Jones, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the primary causes for the decline in the monarch population include breeding habitat loss and degradation, global climate change and overwintering habitat loss.

"The drastic decline in both the eastern and western monarch populations is incredibly alarming," Jones said. "Monarchs are a beloved sign of summer, and people love seeing them. The decline in the eastern population is reaching the level where the butterfly’s migratory process may be at risk."

The population count for the eastern migratory monarch population is done at their overwintering sites in Mexico. 

"This past winter, that count revealed a 26% decline in the monarch presence at the hibernation sanctuaries," Jones said. 

An estimate of how many monarchs are in Wisconsin over the summer hasn't been made yet, according to Jones. 

Current initiatives 

More than 40 groups and individuals have come together to form the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative, aimed at spurring voluntary monarch habitat plating across the state.

That collaborative is trying to add more than 119 million native milkweed stems to Wisconsin by 2038.

Their goal is to inspire and help "farmers, urban and rural residents, utilities, highway departments, conservation landowners and others" to help plant milkweed, according to an email from the communications office of the Wisconsin DNR. 

Wisconsin is also a part of the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy, a larger campaign by 16 states to add 1.3 billion milkweed stems to the region over the next 20 years.

Agnew is also doing her part in Wauwatosa by working with others to "protect, enhance and prevent" adjacent impacts to the County Grounds. 

Developers can use native plants for their development and not use pesticides, Agnew suggested. 

"It's going to take developers to go the extra mile to make sure that we can enhance areas to provide monarchs and pollinators all of the resources that they need," Agnew said. 

What can we do?

It's simple, really: Plant milkweed. 

Jones said Wisconsin residents can help by planting native gardens that include milkweed and other nectar sources that bloom from spring to fall and minimizing the use of lawn chemicals. 

Jones also encouraged residents to monitor monarch eggs, larvae and adult monarchs through initiatives like the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program or Journey North.

Agnew encourages cities to think outside of the box and plant milkweed in more areas, including in medians, ditches and even near the exits of highways. 

"The demand and the community awareness of what we need to do is right there, and people are so eager to do this and to help so that we can restore their population," Agnew said. "That's inspiring." 

Milkweed can be planted alone, in gardens or in all sorts of prairie plantings like grasslands enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program or any restored prairie across the state. Planting milkweed alongside other native prairie plants is best for monarchs since they can eat the nectar from other wildflowers.

You can learn more about how to plant milkweed here:

Evan Casey can be reached at 414-403-4391 or Follow him on Twitter @ecaseymedia