Fish and Wildlife Service starts monarch butterfly conservation fund

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2015-- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today more than $3 million in funding to increase habitat for the monarch butterfly, whose numbers are estimated to have fallen by 90 percent in recent years.

At a news conference at the National Press Club, FWS Director Dan Ashe said the main culprit is the declining availability of milkweed, the main nutrition source for the large orange and black butterfly, largely due to agricultural practices and cropland conversion. Loss of wintering habitat in Mexico and California is also harming the species.

Lets Talk Food

Ashe noted that herbicide use is the main problem for the butterfly, which numbered some 1 billion as recently as 1996, due to its effectiveness at killing milkweed. “Efficient, effective production of commodity crops is a good thing,” he noted. “But we have to look for alternative habitat.”

In an effort to reverse the situation, FWS is providing $1.2 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which will start a Monarch Conservation Fund to be matched by private and public donors. The fund will provide the first dedicated source of funding for projects working to conserve monarchs.

Ashe also said the Service plans to fund several conservation projects totaling $2 million this year to restore 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs and supporting 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. Many of the projects will focus on plots along the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota that provides spring and summer breeding habitats in the monarch's migration zone.

FWS is seeking private partners to boost monarch habitat, including seed companies like Monsanto, as well as electric utility companies and state transportation departments and fish and wildlife services, Ashe said.

He emphasized that even small patches of milkweed can make a difference to the monarch. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who joined Ashe at the news conference, pledged to help educate communities about the monarch and the importance of milkweed forage.

The Service also signed a cooperative agreement with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). NWF CEO Collin O'Mara said milkweed seed supply is one of the biggest challenges for increasing monarch habitat because “the current supply is ineffective….but there is a huge market opportunity here.”

Ashe said the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of the Interior and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service are also working on improving milkweed seed supply.

FWS is currently conducting a year-long review of a petition to protect the monarch under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society filed the petition last year. Listing the butterfly could make it illegal to modify monarch habitat - much of which is found in Midwestern cropland areas - without a permit. Listing could also lead to protection of “critical habitat” to help recover monarch populations.

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