WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2015 - A leading environmental group is exploring a plan to pay farmers to set aside edges or corners of their fields to serve as habitat for the monarch butterfly. The idea is to get seed and chemical companies with an interest in sustaining corn and soybean production to put up the money that would go to farmers, says Eric Holst, associate vice president for working lands at the Environmental Defense Fund.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is currently conducting a year-long review of a petition from several other environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, 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 Midwest cropland areas -- without a permit. A decline in monarch populations is largely blamed on the widespread use of glyphosate, which kills weeds in and around plants that have been genetically-engineered to resist the herbicide. EDF’s plan is aimed at making an ESA listing unnecessary.

Holst notes that Monsanto Co., the developer of glyphosate, is already putting money into monarch protection efforts.

“There’s value in wildlife habitat. It’s a creditable commodity that can be traded” and a “potentially lucrative” source of revenue for farmers, he says.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service would welcome considering the EDF initiative and is separately working on a pair of projects that will use conservation programs to improve monarch habitat, NRCS Chief Jason Weller told Agri-Pulse. One of the projects will use the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program to improve habitat on Midwest wetlands. Another project will use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help pay for re-seeding habitat on farms and ranches. 


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