Retired pharmacist and biologist Anita Carpenter spends time almost every day in spring and summer tending to various plants and wildlife on the UW Oshkosh campus.
“You can always tell where Anita has been because of the piles of weeds at the edges of the beds,” UW Oshkosh groundskeeper Lisa Mick said.
Carpenter began her helpful hobby about two years ago during her walks through the University grounds.
“I decided to set up a five-mile route, and I’ve always loved this campus,” Carpenter said. “To me, it’s an oasis in this busy city of ours.”
According to Monarch Watch’s website, a monarch way station contains resources, most notably milkweed plants, that allow monarchs to breed and migrate.
“Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall,” Monarch Watch reports. “Similarly, without nectar from flowers these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico.”
Carpenter said several factors are destroying monarch habitat across the country.
“Practices like spraying chemicals and roadside mowing can kill the milkweed that the monarchs need,” Carpenter said.
Monarch Watch reports that many crops are genetically modified to resist certain weed-killing herbicides. Although the chemicals do not affect the harvest, the surrounding milkweed is destroyed.
Carpenter said milkweed is necessary for the monarchs’ long migration south where they face another danger.
“Once they get to Mexico they winter in the Sierra Madres,” Carpenter said. “They cling by the millions to large evergreen trees. Logging is destroying their habitat and many of these trees are disappearing.”
With monarchs facing habitat destruction on two fronts, their numbers are dwindling. The World Wildlife Fund has designated them as a “near threatened” species.
“Two years ago, the monarch population was around five million,” Carpenter said. “The natural population should be around 50 to 60 million.”
In addition to her routine yard work, Carpenter will focus her efforts on maintaining plants on campus that foster monarchs.
“We’re going to tweak our management of the milkweed,” Carpenter said. “They don’t pull it, but they cut it strategically to expose new lush growth, making it easier for caterpillars to eat it.”
Students interested in helping preserve monarch habitats and working on other landscaping projects should apply for summer positions available with the grounds department.