This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year.
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Landscape architects have placed significant emphasis on the rejuventation of habitat, especially in urban areas. While botanists such as Peter del Tredici stress the the importance of this urban habitat regardless of it’s “nativeness” as a means of de-emphasizing the impact of so-called invasive species, the lack of bio-diversity in corn fields and other industrialized crops is shocking. For reference, see photographer David Littschwager’s One Cubic Foot project. Littschwager spent a few years traveling the world, placing one-cubic-foot steel cages into gardens, streams, parks, forests, oceans, and then photographing all the little critters that passed through. Insects, spiders, worms, fish, birds, and anything else large enouch to be photographed was captured and compiled into a composite photograph that speaks to the incredible biodiversity that covers the earth.
But what about the cornfield? Unlike the 150+ species that populated most cubes, the cornfield had nine, count them, NINE species, thanks to the onslaught of pesticides, genetically modified seeds, and industrial fertilizers used to maximize crop harvest efficiency.