Since the group formed in 2008, the Friends of the Monarch Trail have known monarch butterflies are in trouble. Each year the population dwindles, but the local group continues to work tirelessly to spread milkweed — a food source for monarch caterpillars — far and wide.
This winter was the worst on record in Mexico's Oyamel fir forest, where monarchs from the Midwest and parts of Canada migrate in November. An estimated 33 million monarchs made the journey this winter, close to half the amount of the previous year.
Barb Agnew, founder of the friends group, hopes she and other volunteers can help the population regrow, at least in their corner of the world, on the county grounds in Wauwatosa. This Sunday, they will put in about 2,000 milkweed plants on the 2,500 square feet around their kiosk on the northwest corner of Discovery Parkway and Eschweiler Drive.
"What is happening on the county grounds is a compromise: save some land, develop the rest of it," Agnew said. "And it's happening throughout the United States. There isn't enough space left for the monarchs to repopulate enough."
As UWM's Innovation Campus brings activity to the area, Agnew said it's important to bolster the monarch habitat as much as possible. The group has previously seeded the area with native plants and milkweed, but with the monarchs already back from Mexico and trying to reproduce, Agnew said the seeded plants are growing too slowly to help them right away.
"We need something there much sooner to support the migration during the disruption of construction," Agnew said.
The group purchased the plants with help from donors and fundraisers. Earlier in the year, they sold milkweed and nectar plants at their kiosk in an effort to broaden habitat options for monarchs throughout the city.
In addition to helping monarchs, Agnew said the habitat helps other pollinators, like bees, which in turn feed the whole ecosystem.
"We're using the monarchs to say that something is wrong in the environment," Agnew said. "We need to create this better habitat for them, but it benefits all the other things in decline."
New volunteers are welcome to help plant from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. Agnew encourages volunteers to wear work shoes and bring gloves and shovel if possible. If it pours rain, the event will likely be moved to the following Sunday, July 20.
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