Western Monarch Butterfly Report Identifies Urgent Opportunities for Conservation

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) hosted an emergency meeting of scientists, restoration practitioners, agricultural producers, land managers and agency officials at the University of California, Davis last month to discuss and identify challenges and opportunities for recovering the western monarch butterfly population, which has declined 86 percent since last year. The takeaways from the meeting are summarized in a new report, Recovering the Western Monarch Butterfly Population: EDF’s Key Takeaways.

“While the factors driving last year’s steep monarch population decline remain uncertain, the evidence over the long term indicates that land conversion of overwintering sites on the coast, pesticide exposure, climate change, parasites, disease and a reduction in breeding and nectar habitat are all contributing to the species’ near-extinction status,” said Dan Kaiser, director of western conservation strategies at EDF.

“To recover the western monarch population and build resilience for native pollinators, EDF believes that landowners, wildlife agencies and restoration practitioners must work together to protect and restore breeding and migratory habitat, fast,” Kaiser said.

The meeting report published today identifies the paramount challenges and opportunities associated with restoring monarch habitat on working lands, incorporating feedback from landowners with direct, on-the-ground experience with monarch conservation activities in California.

“In many cases, landowners do not have the time to conduct the research needed or to access the grants necessary to fund planting and maintenance of monarch and pollinator habitat,” said Reyn Akiona from Bowles Farming in Los Banos, California. “Farmers and ranchers are typically willing to help, we just need to make it easier to access resources for monarch habitat projects.”

Another key opportunity identified in the report for scaling up monarch habitat restoration is incorporating monarch habitat into existing and planned restoration projects. For example, there are thousands of acres of planned floodplain restoration along the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. By incorporating milkweed and suitable wildflowers into these existing restoration plans, the floodplain habitat could also provide additional support for monarchs.

“To recover the western monarch population, we need to protect, manage and restore the habitat that it uses – from the coastal forests where it overwinters to the native milkweeds and wildflowers it needs in the spring,” said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Scaling up these kinds of efforts will help not only monarchs, but a whole suite of other native pollinators,” Jepsen added.

“Conservation goals for the western monarch butterfly are necessarily ambitious, but they’re not impossible,” said Kaiser. “Collaborations between unique partners are key to bringing restoration efforts to scale, and this report provides the foundation to do just that in the near-term in California.”

To further boost conservation efforts in the West, EDF recently released a technical field guide for monarch butterfly habitat creation in California, and sponsored legislation that will direct $3 million to monarch conservation in the state.

The monarch faces a June 2019 deadline for federal policymakers to decide whether or not to add the butterfly to the endangered species list. This decision will take into account the status of both the eastern and western monarch populations, in addition to conservation efforts across the U.S., as the North American monarch’s range spans the entire continental U.S. and parts of Mexico.

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