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Article published July 23, 2013
Missing the monarchs
Georgiann Kerr Lancaster Township
It is mid-July, the evening is heavy with lingering heat, and a solitary tiger swallowtail is flitting amongst our stand of echinacea. This is the first and only large butterfly we have seen this year. Where are the legions of monarchs that lay their eggs on our milkweed? For that matter, where are the hummingbird moths and the hummingbirds? We have had only one pair of hummingbirds this season and they seem to have departed when the Jupiter’s beard went out of bloom. The monarch migration has passed us by. They seem to have chosen a path north that is east of us. Monarchs have been seen as far north as Nova Scotia, but they did not pass through this section of Butler County. Perhaps when they begin south again in September and October we will see their flash of flame in the hedgerows and fall gardens as they ply their way to their winter habitat south of Mexico City. Has the gas industry enveloped us in an indiscernible cloud of methane? Have our short-sighted agricultural methods killed off the plants that each species of butterfly requires for food for their caterpillars? We drench our arable lands with Roundup and other herbicides, poisoning the land and killing far beyond the designed scope of protecting the crop. Is the downturn in the number of butterflies caused by a new generation of insecticide? Nationally, beekeepers are suing the EPA for allowing the use of neonicotoids, a new insecticide that uses nicotine. The chemical pesticide industry has millions of dollars with which to fight for the continued use of its new product. In Pennsylvania, the Republican Party is essentially owned by the gas industry; $1.6 million to Gov. Tom Corbett alone. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup and the Roundup Ready GM (genetically modified) seed that is planted all over Butler County has $2 million a quarter to spend on lobbying. We seem to have the best government money can buy, both in Harrisburg and in Washington, D.C. The population of monarch butterflies is 20 percent of what it was 10 years ago. I would like our county government to prevail upon our universities to test our air and perform any other necessary investigation to find the cause — and offer a solution. I am alarmed when I see a beneficial and populous species begin to disappear. Why don’t our politicians share my concern?