Reminder of a Failed Campaign

| Blog, Ilse Gebhard

By Ilse Gebhard, KAWO member

The number of monarchs at the overwintering sites in Mexico was at an all-time low the winter of 2013-2014. While insect populations can vary greatly from year to year, the trend for monarchs is definitely downward since consistent population measurements were started in the winter of 1993-1994. Because it predates official population estimates and recent efforts to “save the monarch,” the following information on monarch conservation is all the more visionary.

A while back Kalamazoo Area Wild Ones member Mike Klug passed along to me a folder labeled “National Butterfly.” He had found it while working on a project documenting the history of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, Michigan. The contents of this cryptically labeled folder covered an aspect of monarch history all new to me, as it occurred in 1989, about 10 years before I became involved with monarchs. 

The content of the above-mentioned folder was a packet of information sent out by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) to various organizations, like the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, asking them and their members to support a campaign to make the monarch our National Insect. For its 100-year anniversary in 1989, the ESA had decided that the country needed a National Insect and they voted the monarch as its choice to represent about 600 species of butterflies and at that time nearly 90,000 other insect species that are an integral part of the natural heritage of the United States. They were well aware 35 years ago, that monarchs were declining in numbers under pressure from urbanization and loss of habitat resulting in the reduction of milkweeds and overwintering groves of trees in California and Mexico. 

Included in the folder was a very nice color brochure published by ESA promoting the campaign. The brochure covered monarch history, biology, migration, ecology, and conservation of overwintering sites. It also included a very impressive list of sponsoring organizations:

  • Entomological Society of America (ESA) 
  • American Registry of Professional Entomologists 
  • American Institute of Biological Sciences
  • Connecticut Entomological Society 
  • Lepidopterist Society 
  • National Audubon Society 
  • National Wildlife Federation 
  • New York Entomological Society 
  • The Nature Conservancy 
  • The Wildlife Society 
  • Xerces Society 

In addition, the folder contained letters of support from the Kentucky Academy of Science, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, the American Entomological Society (AES) and the Kansas Associated Garden Clubs, Inc. ESA apparently worked very hard to promote the monarch as our National Insect.

To me the most interesting document in the folder is a copy of H.J. RES. 411, a Joint Resolution introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on September 27, 1989, by Representative Leon Panetta from California. Representative Panetta was born in Monterey, a well-known overwintering site of the Western U.S. monarch population, and was elected from his native district. The resolution was referred to the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, and by January 31, 1990 it had nine co-sponsors. Not having found any further information on the resolution by a web search, I assume it died for lack of co-sponsors. 

The letter of support from the Kentucky Academy of Science stated that they will pursue adoption of the monarch as the Kentucky state insect. I guess that was not to be either, as a web search shows the viceroy to be its state butterfly, adopted in 1990—close, but not the real thing.

On the other hand, the monarch is the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, and Texas and the state butterfly of Minnesota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Interestingly, more than half of the states have chosen insects that are non-native, with 15 states having chosen the European honey bee as their state insect, one state listing it as the state bug, and three states listing it as their state agricultural insect. Other non-native insects chosen are European mantis once and 7-spotted ladybug three times. There are only two states without a state insect—Iowa and Michigan. Several citizen-driven attempts have been made for the Michigan state legislature to adopt a state insect, including the monarch in 2016. Bills were introduced, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but they never came up for a vote.

The failed campaign 35 years ago to declare the monarch the National Insect reminds us that monarch populations have been declining for a long time.