When Chip Taylor spoke last year at the Q-C Pollinator Conference in Davenport, he delivered a sobering assessment of the possibility of reversing monarch butterfly decline to the point that migration continues.
The founder of Monarch Watch and University of Kansas professor who has championed monarch butterflies since 1992 said that while it is not likely that monarchs will go extinct, their numbers may fall to the point that they no longer migrate.
Taylor outlined the causes of the butterflies' reduced numbers, widely attributed to habitat destruction in the Corn Belt, with the Quad-Cities nearly in the center of their breeding grounds.
"This is the center," he said. "You are the heartland for butterfly production. What you are doing here is going to have an impact."
But as he continued speaking, his enthusiasm for the ability of one person or small groups to make a difference seemed to diminish.
Since 1996, 173 million acres of habitat have been lost, about the equivalent of the state of Texas, he said. Losses continue in the range of one to two million acres annually.
To rebuild the monarch population to levels that will sustain migration, about 20 million acres of habitat would need to be replanted, he said.
In addition to backyard plantings, this could include railroad rights-of-way and the ditches along highways, particularly Interstate 35, which is a 1,400-mile migration corridor from Minnesota to Mexico, he said.
But such an "all hands on deck" initiative would take strong leadership everywhere — in government, in the private sector and among nonprofits — and it would take money. And don't forget seeds, which also aren't currently available in the quantity that's needed, he said.
"We're not going to save migration unless we do everything we can."
Earlier in the day, Karen Oberhauser, a monarch butterfly researcher at the University of Minnesota, struck a more optimistic tone.
She issued a call to action — for everyone concerned about monarchs and other pollinators to do something — and she stressed that maintaining hope is essential.
"We need to address everything we can," she said. This includes planting milkweed and nectar plants in one's backyard, asking your county or municipality not to spray or mow during the time of milkweed flowering, teaching others (especially children), advocating to lawmakers and giving money to conservation organizations.
"Monarch migration is an unmatched biological phenomenon," she said. "It would be a shame to lose it."