The fifteen most significant initiatives positively affecting monarch butterflies since 2013’s National Pollinator Week

A critical moment in the history of milkweed habitat restoration and butterfly recovery in North America


Monarch Migration
A monarch butterfly rests on the flowers of a pagoda plant on the grounds of the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. The wildlife refuge is on the monarch’s migration route from the northern United States to Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.


As 2014’s National Pollinator Week begins, it is time to think critically about what constitutes tangible actions and credible research on behalf of monarch conservation in the midst of a key moment in American conservation history. Many conservationists fear that green-washing and tokenism will distract the public from supporting the essential work which needs to be done to curb further declines of milkweeds and monarchs. We wish to offer examples of some of the most positive events, actions and research findings from this last year to help the public at large “set the bar high” when evaluating where to place their moral, scientific, political, financial and volunteer support on behalf of the larger milkweed and monarch community. Rather than publishing a snarky “fifteen worst” list, we have opted to feature the most inspiring efforts that offer the best that we can collectively do to build a healthier future for monarchs.

1. October 2013 – The publication and release of a referred journal article by JE Diffendorfer, et al, “National valuation of monarch butterflies. in the journal, Conservation Letters. Their Powell Center survey indicated an untapped potential for incentive-based conservation of milkweeds and monarchs. Their carefully-designed polling indicated that Americans care so much about monarchs and their habitat that they are willing to pay up to $6.5 billion out of their own resources to support milkweed restoration and monarch conservation if they can be guided to the habitat most effective means for doing so.


2. October 2013 – The outcomes of an international meeting of monarch experts in Morelia Mexico—including Karen Oberhauser and Lincoln Brower—identified the tangible means to halt further declines of monarchs:

• Providing tools and guidelines to inform monarch conservation efforts, such as (i) promoting mowing, burning, thinning, and harvesting regimes designed to restore ecosystem structure and species composition; (ii) milkweed propagation for increasing seed stock availability; (iii) inclusion of milkweed in habitat restoration plantings; and (iv) seeding utility right-of-ways with native plants, including milkweed.
• Supporting state and federal agricultural conservation programs that protect and restore habitat for monarch butterfly foraging, breeding, and migration such as planting seed mixes that include milkweed and nectar plants and set aside programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program.
• Decreasing harmful effects of insecticides by improving implementation of Integrated Pest Management practices, limiting the use of nornicotines, a specific class of insecticides widely used in agricultural production, and by reducing off-target exposure.


3. November 2013 – The first major news publication on the dramatic declines in monarchs in 2013, written by Jim Robbins for the New York Times, jolted many conservationists out of passivity and complacency: “the year the monarch didn’t appear.” (Jim Robbins)


4. December 2013 – Gary Nabhan introduced the concepts of “food chain restoration” and “conservation of imperiled relationships” in his keynote at the annual conference of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign at the American Farm Bureau Federation building in Washington DC. He advocated for collaborative conservation involving multiple stakeholders to avert food web collapse affecting honeybees, bumblebees, monarchs and human food security.


5. December 2013 – The first discussion of milkweed habitat restoration for monarch recovery hit mainstream media as a New York Times front page story on Laura Jackson and the Tallgrass Prairie Center’s efforts to restore milkweeds to the landscape, with additional commentary by Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch.


6. January 2014 – The release from World Wildlife Fund in Mexico of lowest area of Oyamel fir habitat ever recorded for monarch overwintering in Mexico sent shock waves around the world. As Mexican officials explained, neither deforestation or unusual weather conditions could explain the declines; instead, they referred to the correlation with pervasive loss of milkweeds in the summer breeding grounds of monarchs in Midwestfarmlands, as reported the year before by Pleasants and Oberhauser.


7. February 2014 – Launch of website allowed rapid posting of news from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, as well as position papers on tangible solutions. The new website featured contributions by Ina Warren, Homero Aridjis, Gary Nabhan, Chip Taylor, Alison Deming, Lincoln Brower and others, and garnered more than 1.7 million hits within the first month, largely because of NY Times , Huffington Post and NPR coverage of letter to “the Three Amigos” .. see below. (Michael Wines)


8. February 2014 – Letter to the leaders of the three North American nations leaders from 275 thought leaders from seven countries urged immediate action to avert monarch migration collapse. Written by Lincoln P. Brower, Ernest Williams, and Homero and Betty Aridjis, the letter was personally transmitted by Homero by diplomatic pouch to Mexico’s President Pena Nieto by Homero Aridjis to share with US President Obama and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper. Over a dozen websites immediately posted the letter and/or listed its signatories.


9. February 2014 – The above-mentioned letter prompts the signing of a monarch recovery plan agreement by the tres amigos, who could not agree on anything else at their Toluca Summit. The landmark agreement specified that a high-level task force work to recover monarchs, designating this butterfly a symbol of international cooperation among the three countries. ; WWF: North American Leaders Rightly Commit to Protecting Monarch Butterfly Migration


10. February 23, 2014 – A Los Angeles Times op-ed by Gary Nabhan, “Monarchs, milkweed and the spirit of Rachel Carson” proposes a National Day of Action on April 13 to protect monarchs and honor Carson on the 50th anniversary of her death. The same story was feathered in an interview with Nabhan by Living on Earth commentator Steve Curwood on National Public Radio all across the country.


11. April 13 – A Day of Action and Contemplation takes place from coast to coast, with faith based communities and college groups taking the lead. That same date, a letter initiated by the Make Way for Monarchs board of advisors signed by 45 non-profit organizations, universities and monarch specialists was sent by The Xerces Society and others to the President, the White House Office for Science Policy, the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture. It requested a landscape level habitat recovery initiative for monarchs that would also benefit other pollinators. Posted online by NY Times, it prompted the “fast tracking” of the White House Summit to engage multi-stakeholders in pollinator recovery.

Scientists, Farmers and Educators Ask the President and Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to Jump Start Recovery of Monarch Butterflies

A Day of Action:

NYT DotEarth Blog by Revkin:


Herb/Veggie/Pollinator Garden taken on WH tour 4/27/14
Herb/Veggie/Pollinator Garden taken on WH tour 4/27/14

12. May 6 – White House Pollinator Recovery Summit is hosted by the President Obama’s Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren and Senior Science Policy Associate Dr. Michael Stebbins. More than sixty governmental officials, corporate and non-profit CEOs, farmers and seed trade association staff, university researchers and foundation program officers attended a ninety minute summit at the Eisenhower Building next to the White House. While there was no finger pointing, Stebbins suggested that it was time all sectors of the agricultural food supply chain ante-up to mitigate damage or loss of milkweeds to help recover monarch populations. Make Way for Monarchs advisors Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, Scott Hoffman Black of the Xerces Society and Franciscan brother Gary Nabhan pushed for collaboration on large landscape-level recovery efforts. Within days, Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch receives the annual Growing Green Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council for his monarch recovery efforts.


13. May 27 – The trilateral meeting on wildlife and ecosystems in Queretaro, Mexico gave center stage to monarch recovery. Featuring excellent presentations by Karen Oberhauser, Eduardo Rendon Salinas, Gloria Tavera and others, the trilateral meeting on endangered wildlife and ecosystems management focused more on how to curb monarch declines than on any other issue. USGS Associate Director Anne Kinsinger assured scientists and officials from the three countries that if herbicide damage to milkweeds was seen as a major causal factor of monarch declines, then herbicide reduction to avert further losses would be investigated and best practices encouraged.


14. June 6 –Two hundred scientists and educators attend a full-day “Make Way for Monarchs” one day symposium at Chicago Botanic Gardens, followed by Scott Black’s lecture on pollinator conservation as over ten thousand Chicagoans celebrate World Environment Day. The standing-room only sold-out symposium occurs just one day after a Journal of Animal Ecology article by Canadian and Australian scientists corroborates the earlier Pleasants and Oberhauser hypothesis that loss of an estimated 1. 49 billion milkweeds due to excessive herbicide use in Midwestern and Southeastern farmlands is the major cause of monarch declines. The lectures by Brower, Taylor and Black at the symposium and the new paper by Tyler Flockhart and colleagues in the referred journal further challenged the preposterous contentions of a recent release called “Myth 6” which argued that excessive herbicide use is NOT a significant cause of milkweed and monarch declines. The six speakers all called for broader on ground collaborations including citizen scientists in monarch recovery.


15. June 17 – The annual “Pollinator Dinner” at St Louis Zoo features monarch recovery and food chain restoration with a lecture by Gary Nabhan of Make Way for Monarchs. Nabhan and Ed Spevak of the Zoo’s Center for Native Pollinator Conservation will celebrate the recent efforts in St. Louis to plant milkweeds on highway sides throughout the metro area, and the Zoo’s plans to collaborate with the Missouri Botanical Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden and Brookfield Zoo on a longer milkweed corridor being proposed for the rights-of-way along Interstate 55 between Chicago and St. Louis.



Gary Paul Nabhan is an orchard keeper and co-facilitator of, a milkweed-butterfly recovery alliance. Along with bee ecologist Steve Buchmann, his co-author for The Forgotten Pollinators, he was among the first to sound the alarm about bee and butterfly declines in the mid-90’s. His latest book is Cumin, Camels and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, has just come out from the University of California Press.

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