Monarch butterflies are in danger—so much so that they may soon be officially endangered. Due to deforestation, climate change and associated habitat loss, monarch populations are in sharp decline, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to add the monarch to the endangered species list later this year.
This is not good news for the planet. Sure, monarch butterflies are nice to look at, but they are also important pollinators as well as a food source for other birds and insects. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help reverse the population’s downward spiral.
Build a butterfly garden
If you have outdoor space that gets at least some direct sun, plant a small pollinator garden with flowers that attract butterflies as well as bees, moths and other insects.
You’ll definitely want to include milkweed, which is the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat. Swamp milkweed is the best bet, but other species of milkweed will do. From there, consider including a variety of flowers and plants that will be easy for you to care for (native to your area) as well as some that will thrive across changing seasons.
And if you don’t have a yard, a planter or pot on your balcony will work just fine.
Participate in monarch tracking and research
This is a little more involved than watching a garden grow, but it could be an especially fun project to do with your kids. There are a few groups that track monarch populations and migration patterns to better understand the habits of butterflies and hopefully find ways to keep more of them alive and reproducing.
One option is to join the University of Illinois’s I-Pollinate Project, which involves planting an I-Pollinate garden—following the project’s specifications—and then spending about two hours per month observing flowers and pollinators and reporting the data back to the project.
Another group, the Monarch Joint Venture, can connect you with a survey or monitoring program in your area.
Another easy step to take? Spread the word. Encourage your friends and neighbors to grow their own pollinator gardens and share milkweed seeds far and wide to keep monarchs’ food source alive.