PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ida Galash wakes up in the morning, pours herself a cup of coffee and packages free milkweed seeds for the community to help a species in decline.
Galash is the founder of the Portland Monarchs, which is a group dedicated to sharing information about the struggles of Monarch butterflies and how they can help. Currently, the group has a milkweed seed station in Northeast Portland filled with seed packets, monarch gardening guides and milkweed silk for hummingbird and chickadee nesting material.
The olive-green wood station is decorated with colorful butterflies and flowers with “butterfly garden” written on the back.
“For people to include in their own gardens, just to increase the habitat as much as we can,” Galash said. “Having little pockets of milkweed interspersed is going to have monarchs more availability and a better chance of finding it rather than traveling great distances to find some.”
So far, the group has 1,200 members since starting in 2020.
Galash said the cause is important because the butterflies are having loss and degradation of their habitat.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places, Monarch butterflies are in steep decline because of pesticide spraying, habitat loss and climate change.
“The most recent population counts show a decline of 85% for the migratory beauties,” the organization said in an effort to increase the protection of the butterflies and other species. “The population is below the threshold at which government scientists estimate the migrations could collapse. The Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Center for Food Safety, petitioned for protection of monarchs on August 26, 2014. In 2020 the Service found they warranted protection but failed to actually provide it.”
Galash, who is the Portland point-person for the Western Monarch Advocates, said the group arranged a grant with the U.S. Forestry Service through the Wings Across the Americas program for establishing new monarch habitats in various states. She was tasked with trying to find suitable new locations for the Monarch butterfly habitat, which included Pittock Mansion and Washington Park.
As for the milkweed seeds, Galash said it’s the only plant that the butterflies will lay their eggs on and the caterpillars only eat them.
“So, if there is not milkweed, there’s no Monarchs,” she explained. “Milkweed does contain toxins and the caterpillars ingest that and in turn makes them distasteful or toxic to potential predators.”
While the plant is essential for the species to survive, Galash cautions people to wash their hands and to not touch their eyes after handling the seeds.
She added that people seem interested in the milkweed seed station.
“I would say in the first week easily 100 packets got picked up. I don’t think it’s slowed,” Galash said. She first installed the station on April 17.
She added, “It’s great to be part of something people can get excited about and feel good about and hopefully it’ll turn their thinking into other aspects of nature.”
You can find the milkweed seed nation on the 3400 block of N.E. 24th Ave., in Portland.