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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Conserving Monarch Butterflies with the States

A monarch butterfly perches on a New England aster at Sand Lake Wetland Management District in South Dakota. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Our Director, Dan Ashe has joined Larry Voyles, President of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), in signing a joint memorandum promoting collaborative efforts to conserve the monarch butterfly and other native pollinators.

The memo, signed at the 2015 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, urges state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies to be resourceful in helping to turn around the severe drop in monarch butterfly populations, which have declined by more than 90 percent within the past 20 years. 

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“In 1996, we saw populations of a billion monarch butterflies funneling down from all over the Unites States to overwinter in Mexico, but those populations have dwindled,” said Ashe during the memo signing.  “In 2013, we saw the lowest populations ever recorded – about 30 million monarch butterflies.” 

Weed control practices, particularly on corn and soybean fields, have impacted the availability of milkweed in North America. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs.   According to Ashe, the key to conserving monarch butterflies is to put good habitat on the landscape. 

“There’s precious little milkweed left for monarch butterfly breeding habitat, and so what we need to do if we’re going to reverse the decline is to make that habitat, “ said Ashe. “We are already doing a lot of the conservation initiatives and habitat restoration for waterfowl, for pheasants, for grassland nesting birds and for big game; and we can also incorporate milkweed into seed mixes.”

“One of the things that I appreciate about this joint letter is that while states have different levels of management authority, we’re demonstrating what we can do with cooperative conservation,” said Voyles. “We can make a difference on a scale that the often times old protective model doesn’t accomplish.” 

In the joint memo, state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies are encouraged to add the monarch butterfly and other declining pollinators as species of greatest conservation need in their State Wildlife Action Plans, which will allow states and territories to use State Wildlife Grant Program funds to implement conservation efforts.

The memo also asks states and territories to consider incorporating actions that support monarch and pollinator conservation in projects funded through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration programs, such as planting locally native milkweed and nectar plants in grassland restoration projects. 

During the signing, both Ashe and Voyles emphasized the importance of cooperation to conserve monarch butterflies. 

“People really want to work to help monarch butterflies,” said Ashe, who acknowledged the contributions of nonprofit organizations, corporations and the public, in addition to the leadership of the state agencies in doing good work for monarchs and for other wildlife.

“There is a broad suite of people who are very interested in monarch butterflies, and the conservation of this species can reach from every gardener to every child in school from kindergarten on up,” added Voyles.    

The Service-AFWA joint memo upholds a 2014 resolution by AFWA’s membership to support “voluntary and incentive-based efforts to address threats of loss, fragmentation and modification of monarch breeding habitat” including numerous milkweed species that serve as the monarch butterfly’s larval host plants in North America. 

The memo also supports a June 2014 Presidential Memorandum directing federal actions to address pollinator conservation and a subsequent Service-wide charge to develop and implement a strategy for monarch conservation that addresses habitat restoration and enhancement, education and outreach, and monitoring and research needs.

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