Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


March 5, 2014

Let’s hear it for butterflies

Let’s face  it. When national leaders agree to attend summit meetings, we don’t expect many tangible and/or desirable results. More likely, whatever proposals are on the table will cost billions, take great chunks of time and eventually run off the tracks.

Additional probable results include ill will, insincere apologies and/or posturing, not to mention much media window dressing. Often, leaders wish they hadn’t even called the summit. It’s rare indeed when biblical admonition gets much traction. One that comes to mind immediately is Isaiah’s quote from the Lord: “Come, now, let us reason together.”

Hope springs  eternal that reason and common sense will prevail. Both seem to be infrequently applied — wherever we live or wherever summits occur.

How refreshing, then, is the current announcement that should set our hearts aflutter. At the recent confab in Toluca, Mexico, that country’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto; US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper seemed to have unanimous resolve to tackle a problem faced by all three countries.

We’re flat out running out of monarch butterflies. The leaders didn’t meet initially to talk about butterflies. But the subject came up when they reviewed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created the world’s largest trade zone a couple of decades ago.

Citing monarchs as the species that “symbolizes our association,” the leaders wedged in the “butterfly alert” on an agenda that included weighty pronouncements on energy, immigration, border security and job creation.

Population of the monarchs, hibernating in Mexico annually from December until March, has plummeted from a high of 1.1 billion in 1996 to a pitiful 33 million this year.

Butterflies covered 45 acres of forests in Mexico two decades ago; now there are enough to cover just 1.65 acres.

Experts say relentless spraying of herbicides in North America is wiping out once-plentiful milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat. This is the opinion of more than 100 scientists, Nobel Prize winners and environmentalists.

The scholars are calling on the three nations to establish a “milkweed corridor” that could put an end to what, in effect, amounts to starvation for many of the world’s most beautiful creatures. They advise massive planting of milkweed along roadsides — and in toxin-free buffer zones — in all three countries.

Thus, when butterflies make their 3,000-mile migrations, there should be plenty of milkweed to sustain them — if they stay on course.

In just five years, we’ll observe the 50th anniversary of a long-running Broadway hit (later a heralded movie), Butterflies Are Free.

Perhaps a worthy goal to coincide with that milestone would be the announcement that monarch butterfly numbers are soaring, maybe even nearing the one billion mark.

Sure, we’ve got problems with border crossings, but they shouldn’t apply to butterflies. If they, in “butterfly talk,” ask, “Got milkweed?,” each country should have a “yes” answer. Maybe wives of the presidents will take this project on; Lady Bird Johnson would have!

If the leaders piddle around on this problem, international landscapes could one day be barren of monarchs. How sad.

I guess it’s too late for the experts to help restore fireflies. (OK, “lightning bugs” if that’s what you called them.) Maybe that can be considered at a later summit. (And no, we don’t want the leaders squabbling over whether to offer little government-provided feedbags for the monarchs to eat from during their migration. What we do want is for them to take the problem seriously. At an earlier summit, upon learning the whooping crane population had dipped under 100, one wiseacre suggested gathering up regular cranes, and teaching them to whoop.)  

Humankind remains fascinated by God’s creatures, particularly, I think, the ones that fly, with feathers or otherwise.

I don’t know very many butterfly stories, but a boiler plate, garden variety and well-worn yarn comes to mind. It is worth recalling, reminding us of the importance of a commitment to open-mindedness.

Two caterpillars, crawling slowly along the ground, heard flapping wings of butterflies above them. “You’ll never get me up in one of those things,” one said to the other.

Finally, there was the youngster who feared somehow swallowing caterpillars and winding up with butterflies in his stomach….End of the lines; everybody off.


Dr. Don Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. He may be reached by email at His website is Follow him on Twitter: @donnewbury

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