Rode down the Bitterroot Bike Path, cataloguing some milkweed that grew wild near the highway. Made it to MPG Ranch where I was greeted by Maggie Hirschauer, a wildlife biologist and one of the leading figures in monarch study and conservation in Montana. She has been an invaluable resource in understanding how best to go about the Montana leg of the Monarch Waystation Soundmap.
Very little is known about the monarchs’ migration in Montana, so Maggie has created a network of volunteers who search for monarchs and milkweed every year. Although the population crash has made it difficult to obtain data, she successfully gathered more than a dozen larvae from the large cultivated showy milkweed stand at MPG ranch, raising them to adulthood and releasing them to continue their migration.
Maggie explained how the challenges facing the butterflies are complex and multifaceted: loss of trees and other habitat in coastal overwintering areas, climate change, pesticide use, loss of food sources and other habitat along the migratory route have all contributed to the decline. There is no one easy solution to save the monarchs, but hopefully many small projects like the Soundmap and the Bitterroot Monarch Project will help.
After playing some music for the milkweed plants, Maggie sent me on my way with a large bag of seeds gathered at the ranch— this is super helpful, because these seeds have local genetics and will be more suited to surviving in this region. Thanks Maggie!!
More about The Bitterroot Monarch Project and Maggie’s work in Montana:
Locally-sourced showy milkweed: