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Out & About: How to help monarchs reign in your yard

  • Eleanor Kohlsaat. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Ashlee Edwards, 10, of Claremont, N.H., holds a butterfly in a viewing container while catching insects with Dawn Dextraze, the Education and Outreach Specialist with Sullivan County Conservation District, during a STEAM-themed (science, technology, engineering, art and math) camp at Blow-Me-Down Farm on Thursday, July 27, 2017, in Cornish, N.H. Ten Claremont middle schoolers are attending the camp, funded with grant money received from the Wellborn Foundation. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Monarch butterflies can be found in the milkweed at Up on the Hill Conservation Area in Charlestown. (Courtesy of Sullivan County Conservation District)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 3/14/2020 10:03:53 PM
Modified: 3/17/2020 10:11:04 AM

The abundance of monarch butterflies in the Upper Valley last summer, after several years of scarcity, was a welcome sight to nature lovers.

The loss of breeding habitat and the use of pesticides have contributed to the butterflies’ decline. But researchers aren’t sure of the reason for last year’s resurgence, said Dawn Dextraze, education and outreach specialist with the Sullivan County Conservation District.

“It was a crazy breeding season and I don’t know exactly why,” she said. “The prevailing winds on the eastern flyway? I’m not really sure. I haven’t read an explanation for it.”

Though it’s likely the uptick had little to do with her efforts, Dextraze has been raising monarch butterflies at home for the past few years.

It began when she spotted a monarch laying eggs on milkweed plants on the side of a dirt road.

“I knew the milkweed was about to be mowed down,” she said. “So I picked the leaves and took them home.”

After reading an e-book on how to care for the insects at each stage of their development, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, Dextraze raised about 70 butterflies in two separate generations.

In addition to needing milkweed to eat, the insects also require fresh air and natural light, along with protection from predators.

Dextraze was scheduled to discuss her experiences and share slides of the butterflies’ development during a lunchtime program sponsored by the Upper Valley Land Trust at the Enfield Community Building on Thursday, but it was canceled due to growing coronavirus concerns. 

Dextraze will give another talk, hosted by the Grantham Garden Club, on April 10 at 9:30 a.m. A meeting precedes the program. (The event was still scheduled as of this writing.)

Before moving to the Upper Valley 3½ years ago, Dextraze worked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the North Carolina and Tennessee borders, helping with a monarch butterfly tagging program and monitoring the breeding populations there.

“I went down to Mexico to see their overwintering sites,” she said. “That solidified my desire to learn more.”

In the Upper Valley, Dextraze has placed monarch observation stations at the Sullivan County Nursing Home in Unity and led butterfly tagging programs at Upper Valley Land Trust’s Up on the Hill Conservation Area in Charlestown.

Raising monarch butterflies in captivity is not the solution to their threatened status, for reasons that include genetic diversity, Dextraze said. But conservation organizations say raising a few dozen at home is neither helpful nor harmful.

“It helps in a way — there’s more awareness,” Dextraze said. “People are planting more pollinator plants and thinking about pesticide and herbicide use. Monarchs are sort of like the tiger, the polar bear or the koala bear. They’re helping to conserve a lot of other species as well.”

During her presentations, Dextraze will explain how landowners can maintain their property for monarch habitat and what kinds of blooming plants to encourage, including bee balm, New England aster, northern blazing star, verbena and native thistle.

“Showy, bright flowers are good,” she said.

She also will talk a bit about the lessons she’s learned while raising butterflies and why even small steps toward conservation are important.

“By caring for things other than ourselves, we start to take notice, we start asking questions, and we can start to make better decisions.”

Editor’s Note: For information about the UVLT program, call 603-643-6626. For information on the Grantham Garden Club meeting, call 603-863-5608.

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