Monarch butterflies considered for threatened list, possible extinction

Federal scientists are researching trends in monarch butterfly populations to determine if America’s best-known butterfly belongs on the threatened or endangered species list, or could be headed for extinction in some areas.

Wayne Thogmartin, U.S. Geological Services research ecologist, said this year’s population is down considerably from last year and is one of the lowest populations in recorded history. This year’s downturn is largely blamed on bad weather events where most monarchs winter in Mexico, and when a Texas storm caught many of the butterflies were migrating northward. Lost of habitat, largely the milkweed species they need for laying eggs, is an ongoing threat.

Thogmartin said some study models indicate anywhere from a 10 to 56 percent chance monarchs could be basically extinct in 20 years, in broad areas where they currently migrate.

Ryan Drum, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist, said his agency is doing research to see if the species warrants a listing on the federal threatened or endangered species list.

Both agencies are part of a dozen or so groups currently trying to work together to improve monarch habitat. The butterflies have lost thousands of acres of habitat since farmers started planting genetically modified grains that allow them to spray herbicide on fields that don’t kill crops, but kill all other plants.

More updates

This week’s rains have surely put a wrench in the plans of a lot of dove hunters across central Kansas. As well as puddles and ruts, there’s water even standing on flat lawns, pastures and crop fields. Doves won’t be concentrated on places where they can drink. Some farmers got some corn cut just prior to the rains so that would provide some shooting.

Monday, photographer Bo Rader and I made a trip to Barber County, to see some of the places we toured the day after the big Anderson Creek fire back in March. It’s the blaze that burned nearly 400,000 acres of private ground. (Bo’s been down several times since, but it was my first return since about five days after the fire, when grass was just peaking through the ashes.)

The pastures were more green and lush than I’ve ever seen in late summer. The pastures that had burned were normally taller, and more lush, than those that had not burned. No doubt the fire took out tens of thousands of cedar trees.

A rancher took us into one of his pastures that had burned, and showed us some springs in a canyon that hadn’t run in years because so many cedars were sapping water from the soil. A biologist with us estimated there more at least three dozen different kinds of plants growing where the cedars had shaded about everything else out a year ago.

Though the pastures are looking good many ranchers are still struggling to get all of the ruined fences rebuilt. Cattle are sure fat, though.

Every rancher and local we talked to down there commented on how many quail they were seeing, even in pastures the that had burned. Donnie Gerstner, an 87-year-old quail dog aficionado who lost his house and possessions in the fire, said some are saying the population is better than it’s been since the 1970s.

Upcoming coverage

Sometime within the next few days, we’re expecting to run front page story on a group of area arborists who work in trees all week, then play in them on the weekends. I met up with them Saturday morning at the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine. Up to seven of the friends spent more time off the ground than on, and made a unique rope swing that had them sailing through the trees and out over a small lake.

Interesting group of people who are really passionate about spending time in trees … and being safe. They tried, but they’ll never get me so high up in sycamores or cedars. I was invited back to see more of Bartlett Arboretum, and that will certainly happen.

This week I’ve been involved in six articles so I’m not exactly sure when each will be finished and published. Thursday’s project is a look at the monarch butterfly migration that’s just beginning.

Saturday I also spend a few hours with some Boy Scouts working on an Eagle Scout project in Goddard, helping create a nature trail by Eisenhower High School. It’s probably next on my list.

All I need are some photos for a story on what blue-green algae is doing to the recreational businesses up around Milford Reservoir. One businessman estimates it’s cost him $4,000 some days, as people avoid the lake because of the blue-green algae warnings.

I’m not sure about Sunday’s Outdoors page, but it may have an article on two veterans going on a dove hunt in northwest Kansas on Friday.

Michael’s world

Happy kids translate into happy parents, which means Kathy and I are absolutely ecstatic.

I’ve already mentioned that Jerrod and his wife, Carilyn, are expecting our first grandchild in about a month. It’s a boy, not that we wouldn’t have been just as thrilled with a girl. The last several months we’ve really enjoyed watching the excitement build with Jerrod and Carilyn. They’re really stoked and are going to be excellent parents. (If enthusiasm counts, Kathy will make the world’s greatest grandmother, too!)

And then Monday afternoon Lindsey and her boyfriend, Lance, completed a two-day hike/climb to the top of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48. Lance proposed and gave Lindsey a ring with a diamond that looks as big as an almond.

Yes, she said yes. They’ve dated for more than two years and have been serious for more than a year. When she called Monday from the 14,500-foot peak she was so excited she could barely talk. Kathy and I have been smiling and giggling ever since.

No clue where or when they’ll have their wedding. No matter, we’ll be there with even bigger smiles.

This weekend I’ll be taking Cade and doing a tour of western Kansas, visiting friends for three or four evening dove hunts. I’ve always enjoyed dove hunts out west more than any other part of the state. It’s partially because I usually find more birds out there, but I also like the remoteness of sitting by a small waterhole or windmill overflow, smelling the sage and knowing all heaven may break loose the last hour or daylight as the birds sometimes come in by the hundreds per evening.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about when my kids were young, and I’d pick them up after grade or middle school and we’d head west early enough to get in an evening hunt north of Coldwater. We’d spend most of the days just kidding around, visiting with friends then have another great dove hunt that evening. Many times they were doing homework in the back seat going and coming on the trips. Great times.


Michael Pearce