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The Butterfly Effect Takes on Different Meaning Today

A monarch butterfly meets a new friend

We have all been eagerly watching how the monarch migration is faring this spring. We know this tiny little bug is in trouble. In a recent post by Monarch Watch, I read some research by The Monarch Conservation Science Partnership, coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey. The post noted that “The planting of 1.4 billion milkweed stems will be required to restore the monarch population to an average of 6 hectares during the winter. Another analysis indicated that full restoration of the monarch population would require restoration of at least 20 million acres. The analysis also showed that restoration at this scale requires the involvement of nearly all available land resources from private lands ranging from back yards to marginal farmlands to right of ways including roadways, etc. We see a shift is occurring in the conservation community. Once, scientists looked at urban areas as uninhabitable for wildlife. Cities were ignored and seen as black spots on large landscape conservation planning maps. Focus traditionally has been on large and wild expanses of land, primarily found in rural areas away from cities and people. But two things are becoming very clear to conservationists. First, cities are where the people are; in fact, 85 percent of the human population is now found in urban areas. And second, as a result of commercial agriculture creating enormous acres of monocultures, cities are becoming small oases for wildlife. The post went on to note that, “In other words, an all-hands-on-deck, multi-sector effort will be required to save the monarch migration. We agree and value collaboration. The monarch has become a poster child for the shift to urban focus and working across sectors. The simple small act of planting a few milkweed plants in your backyard or parking lot or a pot on your balcony is making a big difference. And the efforts are bringing hundreds of new people to the conservation efforts. And hundreds of new people are experiencing stewardship, the outdoors and are connecting to a large landscape effort to make our planet more habitable for all species. It is exciting to see so much attention turn to urban areas and to see people at all levels wake up to the importance of protecting nature in cities. This is the mission of Heartland Conservation Alliance and we have joined local efforts to make a difference for monarchs. We are working in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and The Field Museum in Chicago to create a Landscape Conservation Design (LCD) that will be a tool cities can use to map best places to set up habitat for monarchs. We join Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Austin as one of four sister cities chosen to pilot and help build this exciting new mapping tool. Our role is to connect the crew at The Field Museum with the many monarch efforts on the ground locally. As a partnership Alliance, we are well poised to assist in this way and help convene and connect partners to leverage the many efforts on the ground. Additionally, with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we will be hiring summer technicians to stomp all over the city to study places we believe are best for monarchs to raise their families. The information we gather will inform the models and tools. Later this summer and fall, we will host a series of workshops to share findings and introduce the new tools. In 1963, Edward Norton Lorenz released findings that turned the scientific community upside down. Lorenz was an American mathematician, meteorologist, and a pioneer of chaos theory. He introduced the strange attractor notion and coined the term butterfly effect. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The phrase butterfly effect soon became ubiquitous with a small action causing big changes. As the Monarch butterfly numbers continue to fall and their migration faces perilous drops, I can’t help but think how this phrase, this idea applies to our work today more than ever. We have our poster child and she is stunning! Let’s not miss this opportunity to connect dots, to increase awareness, to get more kids outside, to protect more land, and to tell our story.

Stewards-in-training pulled weeds and planted flowers in an urban garden in April 2016

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