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This man is making it his life's mission to help save the monarch butterfly with a simple, inexpensive solution

He has big visions for how this one step can help ensure the longevity of the species.

The Milkweed Man on mission to save monarch butterflies

Photo Credit: iStock

Steve Bushey is making it his life mission to help the monarch butterfly by protecting a plant critical to its life cycle: milkweed.

The butterflies rely on milkweed to sustain their nearly 2,500-mile migration from the northern United States and the Canadian border to their breeding grounds in Mexico. Thirty of the 73 varieties of milkweed found in the U.S. act as hosts and primary food sources for the butterfly.   

Bushey, or as he is affectionately known, "The Milkweed Man," became passionate about milkweed and the monarch's journey after he and his wife moved to Peaks Island, Maine. 

After learning more about the various trail systems and the plight of invasive species like bittersweet and honeysuckle, Bushey became more interested in the ecological dynamics of his local environment — especially the monarch butterfly. After watching a documentary about the butterfly, he realized he could help them by changing the narrative about milkweed in his own backyard.  

Bushey, who has a background in mapping, started using GPS tracking to determine where milkweed was growing on the island and quickly noticed a few spots. 

He started collecting seed pods, meticulously drying them, and selling them to local residents. That way, more people could grow milkweed in their local communities and help the populations of the butterfly survive their long journey. 

The monarch butterfly is not only a beautiful butterfly species but is also an invaluable pollinator for many of the foods and produce we eat. In Mexico, the butterfly is an important cultural symbol connected to Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the afterlife.

Milkweed has long been an enemy of farmers in Maine and beyond because it isn't compatible with grazing cattle or growing cash crops like hay. As a result, many farmers have tried to eradicate the plant with herbicides, which has been a primary driver of the monarch's precipitous population decline of close to 90% since 1990.

Although Bushey is only a step into the long process of conservation work and protecting the monarch and its food source, he has big visions for how this one step can help ensure the longevity of both species. His action has sparked groups of people to come together, collect seeds, and distribute the seeds all over New England. 

"Imagine three generations of humanity sitting around a table talking, helping another species on their multi-generational trip," he remarked

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