Getting Traction with Monarch Action

Consensus on the need for the Ag industry to step up to the plate on monarch recovery.


Editor’s Note: The consensus letter below was delivered to the six officials at the Monsanto Company over the weekend.

Dear Mr. Grant, Mr. Begemann, Mr. Sachs, Ms. Mazurek, Mr. Rushing, and Mr. Hayes,

We are writing to further engage you in taking more immediate and larger scale actions to help farmers recover milkweeds and other native plants for threatened monarchs. These same plantings will also help recover populations of native bees and honeybees required by farmers. While we are grateful to specific individuals on your team who have already affirmed their commitments to positive change, we remain concerned by the mixed messages coming from your organization as a whole. We therefore urge every leader of your corporate culture to demonstrate a unified and unambiguous commitment to on-ground collaborations with the government, civil society, farms and other businesses. This is urgently needed if pollinator habitat restoration in Midwestern farmlands is to be ramped up as quickly and effectively as is required to avert economic losses to farmers and federal listing of monarchs.

Over the twelve months that have passed since the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico prioritized monarch recovery in the spirit of international cooperation, your technical staff have repeatedly stated that you wish to be seen as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem. At the same time, comments from your public relations team have attempted to obscure the major drivers of monarch declines by focusing on factors other than weed and pest management strategies, many of which involve your products.

In recent months, they have scapegoated Mexican farmers for logging in the overwintering grounds (which has been substantively curtailed in core areas of monarch reserves by protected area managers), some Midwestern farmers (for supposedly misusing or excessively using your herbicides in ways you did not intend) and gardeners for planting the wrong kind of milkweed (a tropical species, which comprises but a minor portion of all milkweeds being planted by conscientious gardeners).

A growing body of evidence from governmental and university sources suggests that intensified use of glyphosates over the last twelve years is strongly linked to milkweed declines in summer breeding grounds for monarch butterflies. Distracting blogs and tweets focused on less-significant causal factors only keep your staff as well as the rest of us from focusing on tangible actions to mitigate the damage unintentionally done by inappropriate use of agricultural toxins. We believe that the White House has given you a similar message that “now’s the time for all hands on deck!”

A year after dialogues with your staff began, we know that you are attempting to activate milkweed plantings on 50 to 60 acres of your own company’s lands by mid-summer, and that you hope to assist with other restoration efforts in Iowa by mid-autumn. Nevertheless, we are not aware of even a hundred acres of new milkweed habitat plantings in toxin-free areas that your company has directly supported, although milkweed plantings on the scale of hundreds of thousands of acres are immediately needed. We have not seen any explicit commitment from your industry to technically and financially assist farmers who wish to substantially reduce and/or better target the use of glyphosates to avoid the further declines of milkweeds and the pollinators which rely on them.

We ask you to specify over the next month the particular actions your company will take to become substantial donors and collaborators to on-ground projects with farmers and any other willing partners. We encourage you to specifically describe in a public document, as the President’s June 2014 memo on pollinators did so effectively, what your corporation’s various divisions will commit to and be evaluated on with regard to actions to reduce herbicide impacts on pollinator forages and to recover milkweeds, monarchs and other pollinators.

Many reputable studies have pointed to the significant role glyphosate-based products have played in the population dynamics of these species of concern. It is no longer an option to think of generous support for monarch recovery as anything less than a moral obligation that your entire industry must take on— just as your own company has admirably taken on worker safety, elimination of child labor or sexual abuse in its subsidiaries abroad, and sustainability actions on its campuses. We look forward to hearing the details of your commitments.


Gary Paul Nabhan, Agro-ecologist and Franciscan brother, Patagonia, Arizona
Ina Warren, Environmental educator, Brevard, North Carolina
Bonnie Harper-Lore, Restoration ecologist, Hopkins, Minnesota
Karen Oberhauser, Conservation biologist, St. Paul, Minnesota
Lincoln Brower, Monarch biologist, Roseland, Virginia
Homero Aridjis, Poet and environmental activist, Mexico City, D. F.
Betty Ferber de Aridjis, Environmental activist and translator, Mexico City, D.F.
Ernest Williams, Scientist, Clinton, New York
Elizabeth Hunter, Writer, Bakersville, North Carolina
Nancy and John Hayden, Organic farmers, Jeffersonville, Vermont
Elizabeth Henderson, Organic farmer, Newark, New York
Nina Veteto, Environmental educator, Asheville, North Carolina
Scott Chaskey, Farmer and poet, Sag Harbor, New York
Erik Mollenhauer and Brian Hayes, Environmental educators, Mullica Hill, New Jersey
David Kline, Amish farmer, Millersburg, Ohio
Nicole Hamilton, Environmental educator, Leesburg, Virginia
Laura Jackson, Agroecologist, prairie restorationist, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Trecia Neil, Environmental Educator, Atlanta, Georgia
Atina and Martin Diffley, Organic farmers, Farmington, Minnesota
Anne Schwartz, Organic farmer, Rockport, Washington




Click on the Roundup Cornbelt Map poster, by Paul Mirocha, to Download the PDF version. / 8.70 MB
Click on the Roundup Cornbelt Map poster, by Paul Mirocha, to Download the PDF version. / 8.70 MB


This map by artist Paul Mirocha combines data from two sources. The first is the map of estimated agricultural uses of glyphosate herbicides such as Round-Up and other products in 2011, compiled by NAWQA, National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. The other source is a revision of Chip Taylor’s classic map of monarch summer breeding grounds, spring and fall migration routes and wintering grounds, revised by Gary Nabhan in fall 2014 after extensive surveys along the U.S./Mexico border. Note that the “purple color” in the Upper Midwestern region is presumably the most vulnerable area for monarchs with regard to glyphosate exposure at a critical time in their life cycles.

There are also areas of vulnerability elsewhere on the continent, where glyphosate use has particularly increased over the last twelve years in corn and soy fields. Correlation does not always confer causation, but other methodologies published in referred journals by reputable scientists corroborate a strong linkage between glyphosate exposure, milkweed declines and subsequent consequences for monarch populations.

We welcome hearing of other referenced interpretations that will potentially lead to targeting where the recovery of monarchs and milkweeds should occur.

See papers by Pleasants & Oberhauser, Brower, Flockhart and others.




Official response from Monsanto to our consensus letter (21 February 2015)


Dear all,

On behalf of the entire Monsanto team, please extend our thanks to all those who joined you in signing the letter this weekend. Your continued efforts to nurture and ensure a more resilient monarch population are vitally important.

As a company, we are collaborating with others to help address many of our planet’s most pressing challenges, including feeding a growing population, confronting climate change and enhancing environmental sustainability. One specific area of focus that we share is protecting habitat for pollinators and wildlife across the agricultural landscape, including monarchs.

As you know from our ongoing conversations, we are dedicated to working with the monarch conservation community, farmers and others to improve and protect monarch habitat in the central United States. No one individual or organization can tackle this challenge alone. This issue requires all of us – agriculture companies and farmers, conservationists and researchers, educators and government agencies – to work together.

Our company has continued an open and transparent dialog with conservation organizations, research institutions, farmers and farmer groups and others, including some of you, to improve and protect monarch habitat along the migration route. While we remain committed to doing our part to find a long-term, sustainable solution to this important issue, we are also working on immediate actions that will be rolled out and communicated in the coming weeks. We appreciate your ongoing feedback, and we pledge to continue to collaborate and engage with you and a broad group of stakeholders as we advance this important effort.

We also look forward to making progress with the Keystone Center Monarch Butterfly Collaborative, which will engage a wide array of key public, government, societal and private sector stakeholders to expand monarch conservation programs. Importantly, this broad group of organizations, including the agricultural sector, will identify barriers to progress and work collectively to advance solutions. We strongly believe this process will leverage everyone’s capabilities and farmers’ unquestionable resolve to determine effective and scalable actions in a collaborative environment. As you know, we need all stakeholders engaged and committed to ensure the success of this important task.

Meanwhile, I invite you to reach out to us directly with any questions or concerns. The dialogue we have fostered over the past year has been extremely productive, and we want to make sure we keep the lines of communication open. Dr. Eric Sachs is leading our monarch conservation efforts and will remain directly engaged with you as we finalize our plans.

Again, thank you for your letter. We truly appreciate the ongoing dialogue and collaboration.


Jesus Madrazo
Vice President, Corporate Engagement


Response to Jesus Madrazo of Monsanto from Gary Paul Nabhan, 24 February 2015:



Good to hear from you. I am grateful for your prompt and courteous response on behalf of your entire team. We hope that Eric’s efforts to compile a comprehensive document of the many initiatives that either have begun or are in discussion with Monsanto will go a long way to providing additional clarity, thereby reducing ambiguity and anxiety to benefit all parties. That’s exactly what the Presidential Memo/federal action plan did for so many of us, and it has already led to further tangible actions. Canada and Mexico, as you may well know from your international perspective, have also done the same. We feel that sharing such efforts, even when they all cannot be formally announced at the same time, can remind us collectively that we all wish to avert any further declines of monarchs, crop pollinators, crop yields and farmers’ livelihoods, because it is ultimately in all of our best interests to do so.

So please, please give us updates as your involvement in collaborations for on-ground solutions advance, as we will do for you and for the federal agencies. In that manner, we may all be better evaluated not merely by what we say or by hear-say but by what we tangibly do to make the world a better place for our culture, for other cultures and nations and for myriad other species in critical need. The sooner we all can get traction on monarch action, the higher the chances that all will benefit in time to make a difference.

Again, thank you for your immediate and thoughtful response.

Gary Nabhan





Government Distribution Maps /

the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program /

Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population / Pleasants & Oberhauser /;jsessionid=B12206B5C5E67630708AA934887471F0.f01t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

Unravelling the annual cycle in a migratory animal: breeding-season habitat loss drives population declines of monarch butterflies / Flockhart /



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