The migration of monarch butterflies is one of the natural world’s most epic journeys. Weighing only about as much as a paper clip, they fly up to 3,000 miles from their summer homes in America’s backyards and grasslands to wintering grounds in Mexico’s mountain forests.
But in recent years, the monarch butterfly populations have dwindled alarmingly. This decline threatens to deprive future generations of the wonder and beauty of the monarch — and is an ominous sign of the worsening health of ecosystems.
That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Federation are joining to take action.
As recently as 1996, the monarch population wintering in Mexico was more than 1 billion, turning forests into seas of orange and black. Last year, the wintering population numbered only about 56 million, gathered on fewer than three acres of forest.
Monarch butterflies, as well as other butterfly species, bees, birds and bats, help move pollen from one plant to another, fertilizing flowers and making it possible for plants that feed people and wildlife. More than a third of the food that we eat requires pollinators to grow. Yet many of these pollinators are declining, with habitat loss, pesticides and climate change all contributing.
We need to know more about why monarchs are disappearing. But we don’t need to wait to take the actions that scientists tell us are necessary.
Monarchs need Americans to make their homes, businesses, schools and community spaces more wildlife-friendly. The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program encourages responsible gardening that helps pollinators and other wildlife thrive, encouraging planting with native species like milkweeds and other nectar plants and encouraging responsible pesticide use.
With nearly 200,000 locations and growing, certified wildlife habitats and community wildlife habitats recognize individual and group commitment to providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife that provides food, water, cover and places to raise young in yards, schools, businesses, campuses, parks, farms and other community landscapes.
Monarchs need the help of the federal government and partners at the state and local levels. President Obama has directed federal agencies to take steps to protect and restore domestic populations of monarchs and other pollinators, calling them critical contributors to our nation’s economy, food system and environmental health.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will make key investments in monarch conservation totaling more than $3.2 million this year. Working with partners, we will restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs on public lands, along highway rights-of-way and on other public and private lands this year, while supporting more than 750 schoolyard habitat projects and pollinator gardens nationwide. Many of the projects will focus on the Interstate 35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer breeding habitats.
And monarchs need the agricultural community and other large landowners to continue expanding their role as partners in re-establishing monarch habitat. NWF and FWS also will increase efforts to protect and plant milkweed and native grasses on public lands, along highways and in other public spaces. We will work with farmers to improve habitat for monarchs, especially on the 26 million acres of land enrolled in the Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, of which most are concentrated down the central U.S. through the primary breeding and migratory corridor for monarchs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Federation are signing a partnership agreement that provides a framework for cooperation in restoring and conserving populations of the monarch butterfly, other pollinator species and the native plants and habitat upon which they depend. FWS and NWF are also part of the Monarch Joint Venture, a broad coalition working to conserve and protect monarch populations and their migratory phenomena by implementing science-based habitat conservation and restoration measures.
The decline of monarchs has continued in part because, until now, saving them has been viewed as someone else’s job. With this partnership, we’re declaring that era over. It’s time for all of us to work together to ensure that future generations have the chance to enjoy this iconic butterfly.