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All Aboard the Monarch Express

By matthew shepherd on 13. November 2015
matthew shepherd

Of all the butterflies in North America, the monarch can probably claim the largest fan club. Over recent decades, love for the monarch spawned a network of loyal enthusiasts growing milkweed and creating backyard oases across the country. Despite this, years of declining populations in both the eastern and western U.S. led to a petition to protect the butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as the focused attention of the White House’s national pollinator strategy released in May of this year. The government is still considering whether to give the butterfly federal protection, but thanks to the impetus resulting from these national efforts, many organizations are stepping up to climb aboard what might be called the “Monarch Conservation Express.”

Because the Xerces Society has been involved in monarch conservation since the 1980s, we are well placed to be able to help move forward the protection of this amazing insect. Our executive director, Scott Hoffman Black, serves as an ex officio member of the Federal Monarch Butterfly High Level Working Group and as co-chair of the Monarch Joint Venture. Xerces staff are also engaged in the U.S. Geological Survey-led Monarch Science Partnership, and serve on the Keystone Monarch Collaborative Steering Committee. In addition to these collaborations, which enable us to guide national-level policy, we are involved in a host of initiatives at the regional and local level across the United States. The following are just some highlights of the work made possible by all of you!

  • We work with farmers across the U.S. to implement habitat projects for the benefit of monarchs and are working with the NRCS to develop their monarch conservation strategy.
  • We are helping develop management guidance for the Monarch Highway project with the goal of improving habitat in a swath of land that extends for 100 miles on each side of Interstate 35 from Texas to Minnesota.
  • We are at the forefront of the national development of milkweed production best practices, so growers can produce monarch host plants for restoration.
  • We are working with the NRCS to develop region-specific monarch nectar plant lists for restoration practitioners. While milkweed is essential for breeding, adults need nectar plants to fuel their migration and to store fat for the winter. Two lists have been released for the Midwest and Southern Plains.
  • We collaborated with monarch scientists to develop a policy statement about the risks associated with mass releases of farmed monarchs.
  • We are gathering records of milkweeds and breeding monarchs in the western U.S. To support this effort, we produced Milkweeds and Monarchs in the Western U.S., which includes how land managers can contribute data to Xerces mapping efforts. We also have a brochure about Western Monarchs in Peril.
  • We are working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to create a western monarch habitat suitability model to guide restoration and enhancement efforts. As part of this, we conducted milkweed surveys on nine national wildlife refuges this last summer. This will be synthesized and used to develop conservation and habitat management recommendations for monarchs in natural landscapes in the western states.
  • In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Xerces scientists are developing best management practices for management of monarch habitat on public lands in the western U.S.
  • The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count now has 150 volunteers counting overwintering monarchs in California, coordinated via an updated website and Facebook group. There is also a smartphone app in development.

With all of these ongoing efforts from Xerces Society scientists, as well as other NGOs, agencies, citizens, and homeowners, we hope to turn around the steady declines we have seen in monarch populations over the past twenty years.  As was written in the national pollinator strategy, we will need an “all hands on deck” approach to turn this ship around—or rather, keep the express on time.

What can you do to help monarchs? The best thing is to make your garden (or park or farm) monarch friendly by growing milkweed and nectar plants. There is information in the links in this e-newsletter or you can get a copy of Attracting Native Pollinators.

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