Gone Forever a Place by the Side of the Road

by Mary Ellen Ryall

Valerie Downes Lusko next to Mr. Wolf's sign, which has been removed. It is going to our new habitat at LCO Agricultural and Research Station.
Valerie Downes next to Mr. Wolf’s sign, which has been removed. It is going to our new habitat at LCO Agricultural and Research Station.
Recently, Valerie Downes, long-time friend, visited the former Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. What was once a remnant tall-grass prairie, dedicated as a Monarch Butterfly Habitat, is now a sandy dead-zone along side Highway 63 and the shores of Shell Lake. The habitat was dismantled in the summer of 2015. Pollinators and native plants were squeezed out and the habitat needed to be rescued. The paving of America and loss of habitat are two of the biggest threats to the precarious pollinator population. Once more, the paving of America is what ultimately destroyed the habitat.

Happy Tonics, Inc., a nonprofit Environmental Education Organization and Public Charity hired helpers. A trailer and truck were brought in to physically rescue physical structures and plant communities before the giant plant killing machines came in. Officers and Board Members helped with the rescue mission. Long time volunteer Jim VanMoorleham helped empty out the garden shed, which was donated to the Maintenance Department of Shell Lake. The shed was built by Shell Lake carpentry class. VanMoorhelam moved memorial metal art and a few donated granite benches to Shell Lake Friendship Center. The seniors had been good friends to Happy Tonics. Donors picked up a donated pergola, art signs and memory benches. Otherwise they were distributed around Shell Lake in public areas at the beach. Large glacier boulders were also placed in other gardens throughout the city.

Valerie Downes Lusko Highway 63 was widened and would now encroach within the once blooming prairie. Parts of the habitat was going to be converted to additional paved parking space. Some thing had to go and it was the living beings that found refuge in the sanctuary. Nature would once again be asked to step aside. The life that existed consisted of migrating butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, deer, birds and an occasional bear. Instead of the chipper greetings to one and all, now there would be a deadened silence. All life that existed there disappeared.

At least a year before the transformation took place, the nonprofit sent brochures from Pollinator Partnership and letters to the City of Shell Lake, in the hopes of educating the City Council and Parks and Recreation Department about the pollinator crisis. Perhaps there might be a way for Shell Lake to move forward and protect the roadside pollinator haven at the same time.

In June 2014, President Obama issued a memorandum titled, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” It is understood that the pollinator crisis has a long-term effect on local food supply and food security issues. Loss of habitat also means a loss of biodiversity and the creative economy.

Since 2008 the Monarch Butterfly Habitat thrived with native grasses, wildflowers, a wild black cherry tree and shrubs. In the beginning, the soil was disturbed and sandy, once being a parcel of land along side a railroad track. Before that it was prairie. Invasive species moved in and overtook the land. Throughout the years, Happy Tonics volunteers pulled out invasive spotted knapweed that spread when the ATV trail and Highway 63 spit seed from tires and when birds excreted.

In summer 2015, big machines and pipes for road work were spread along the ATV trail and the habitat was dug up to install telephone poles and natural gas lines. It was definitely disturbed ground now. Undisturbed earth is necessary for ground nesting bees. I wish you could have seen them. Common eastern bumblebees, European honey bees, carpenter and perdita native bees made the habitat home. The habitat was also abundant in common milkweed for the Monarch Butterfly, another species in decline, with a survival rate of only 10 percent.

With all the native plant colonies established within the habitat, life abounded. Even dragonflies came to visit from nearby Shell Lake. They preferred to rest on tall native grasses and plunder passing insects, such as mosquitoes. It was a joy to watch and photograph dragonflies resting on grasses; their colors sparkling in the sun. The habitat also became a meditation garden when people walked the grassy path and connected with nature.

Roadsides are among the few remaining areas for some pollinating species to live. Now there is less than one-tenth of one percent of prairie that remains. Other states such as Iowa are more progressive. In 1988 Iowa legislators established an Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) program. The state has reclaimed roadside habitats and the life that habitats provide. At the same time, Iowa is more conscious of herbicide use, mowing and other management tools.

There are side benefits of educating the public to protect pollinator habitat. Altering mowing can save money, reduce pollution and benefit pollinators. The advantage of no mowing does deter erosion. In the past, roads were thought of as utility corridors, but now the observant scientist and citizen scientist are seeing a rebirth of purpose being natural resources. Change comes slowly, but it is hoped that others will learn that highways and nature can become mutual friends. All life is connected one way or another. It is not up to us to destroy the balance of living harmoniously with nature.

Source: Wings, The Xerces Society, spring 2015

Why is Earth Day Important?

Earth Day is Every Day although many people don’t realize that we need to protect the environment for future generations.

Reason being, Nature is being assaulted on many fronts. Xerces Society founded by in 1971 is a nonprofit

Bumblebee gathering pollen on late blooming aster
Bumblebee gathering pollen on late blooming aster

organization dedicated to conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. The reality is honey bees are declining because of colony collapse disorder. According to Xerces Society, “Native bumble bees are also at risk like many plants and animals, bumbles are suffering from loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, changing climates, and diseases that were introduced along with non-native bees. Western bumble bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee and yellow-banded bumble bee used to be very common, but their numbers have decreased by 96 percent and their range shrunk by as much as 87 percent.” The Franklin bumble bee of Oregon and CA is thought to be extinct.

In 2010 President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) with the aim of developing an agenda for 21st-century conservation and helping Americans reconnect with our nation’s lands and waters.

According to Robert Louve, author of Last Child in the Woods, children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. Xeriscape Council of New Mexico, President George Radnovich states that Nature Attention Deficit applies to adults as well as children because as a whole American society is losing interest in the natural world. The natural world can live without us but we cannot live without the natural world.

Loss of habitat in three countries Canada, United States and Mexico is the main concern for monarch butterflies. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has announced that the Monarch Butterfly Migration is at risk. According to WWF A well-preserved forest ecosystem in Mexico is critical for the survival of the Monarch butterfly wintering, which has been recognized as an endangered biological phenomenon, and the first priority in world butterfly conservation. There is also concern by Lincoln Brower, Professor Emeritus of Biology at University of Florida. Brower states in the NOVA film, “Incredible Journey of the Butterflies” that the monarch is facing an endangered migration phenomena. Monarch needs native habitat and biodiversity which are declining in the United States and Canada.

Farming which used to be run by families many of which practiced good land stewardship. Now farming is mostly run as Corporate Farms. Just like people, pollinators are poisoned by pesticides. The butterfly can’t find native nectar sources when large tracks of land are now being planted with monoculture crops.  USDA is looking at the importance of pollinators. The USDA has acknowledged that we need more biodiversity if we are to have pollinators’ to produce many vegetable crops and fruit. In 2006, a Science report documented what appears to be a major decline in bees in England and The Netherlands (possibly a 30% loss in species richness since 1980), especially among specialist bees, and a corollary decline in wild plant species that require insect-pollination.

Elaine Evans author of Befriending the Bumblebee
Elaine Evans author of Befriending the Bumblebee

Elaine Evans, author of Befriending the Bumblebee, will be the speaker at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (LCOOCC), Hayward, WI, on April 13.  Happy Tonics, LCOOCC, Web of Learning Sustainable Living Institute and the LCOOCC Library are sponsoring the event.   

Earth Day Event 2011. Ken Parejko, author of Monarch of the Butterflies, will be the speaker. Parejko is a Professor Emeritus of Biology at Univ. of WI at Stout. He is well versed in the monarch butterfly and has pointed out that we need to protect pollinators for future generations.  Plants are dependent upon pollinators. Did you know that butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators in the world after bees?

Happy Tonics, Inc. was founded in 1999 and has been involved in conservation work on behalf of the monarch butterfly and food safety issues ever since. Visit their Web site to learn more at www.happytonics.org