US, Mexico, Canada meet to improve monarch habitat

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe said he and his counterparts from Mexico and Canada are seeking new ways to support monarch butterfly habitat during the 20th annual meeting of the Canada/Mexico/United States Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management in San Diego, California.

“We are faced with a situation of rather great urgency,” Ashe said in a press call from the conference. The monarch butterfly population is estimated to have fallen by 90 percent in recent years, due largely to loss of habitat and milkweed, the main food source for the large orange and black butterfly.

Lets Talk Food

Sue Milburn-Hopwood, the director general of the Canadian Wildlife Service, said they are working to develop “a North American strategy to conserve and recover this species.” Canada lists the monarch butterfly as “a species of special concern” on its national List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

FWS is currently conducting a year-long review of a petition from environmental groups to protect the monarch under the Endangered Species Act. 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. FWS identifies herbicide as one of the main problems for the butterfly, which numbered some 1 billion as recently as 1996, due to its effectiveness at killing milkweed.

Ashe said efforts being discussed at the meeting include incorporating milkweed into current conservation partnerships. For example, efforts to increase pheasant habitat could include milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants for monarch butterflies.

“We can work with TransCanada and other utility corporations” to use their rights of way to grow monarch habitat, Ashe said. He added that the delegations from the U.S., Canada and Mexico heard from private companies about the potential for a commercial market for milkweed that “would vastly expand its availability.”

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FWS announced in February that it is providing $1.2 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to start a Monarch Conservation Fund that will be matched by private and public donors. Ashe also said FWS plans to fund $2 million in conservation projects this year to restore 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs and support 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.

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