Saturday, December 3, 2011

Rio Salado Monarch Habitat Restoration

We arrived early, just as the sun evaporated the last of the night from the sky. Gathering from near and far, carrying picks and shovels, we walked in the early dawn light down the hill. We came to restore what had once been a thriving winter habitat for a small number of monarch butterflies each year. Last July a fire reduced the area to ashes, destroying the canopy of trees that protected the visiting monarchs from the extreme temperatures here in the desert.

 Riparian trees are not easy to buy in Arizona. So Lynn Krabbe and Bruce Kilbride volunteered to haul trees and other plants from Desert Survivor's Nursery.  The four of us (including Bob) spent most of a day driving to and from Tucson with a trailer and 40 pots. Desert Survivor's also donated twenty fabric recyclable bags to the volunteers helping that day.

Twenty-eight volunteers arrived to start healing the habitat that chilly Friday morning. Budget cuts limited the availability of Rio Salado staff, so we reached out to the Master Gardeners, Sierra Club and other members of the community interested in monarch conservation. Their excitement and enthusiasm warmed our hearts and we completed the planting in record time, twice as fast as we had planned.

 The digging wasn't always easy but the rocky river terrain and steep slopes didn't stand in their way.

When we finished we worked with city workers to make sure irrigation lines were in place. Then we gave all the new trees and shrubs a deep drink.

 The day before, eight fresh and new monarch butterflies eclosed from their chrysalis in my yard in Chandler. To celebrate our planting day,  I brought them to Rio Salado and one by one everyone present helped us tag each butterfly with their own unique number of the Southwest Monarch Study. We also tested each one for Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, O.e., a disease unique to monarch and queen butterflies. This will be sent to Monarch Health to be part of a national study.

We hope many of the monarchs will spend the winter at Rio Salado. Earlier taggings by the Southwest Monarch Study show Arizona monarchs fly to Mexico and California during their migration. But a few in November always stay at Rio Salado. Further taggings and study may help us learn why.

Thank you to the 28 volunteers, the city staff at Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area and the many people behind the scenes that are keeping a bit of wilderness alive in the greater Phoenix area.

No comments:

Post a Comment