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article imageAmerica's imperiled monarch butterfly gets help from government

By Karen Graham     Feb 9, 2015 in Environment
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the National Wildlife Federation, launched a major new campaign on Monday to halt the decline of the monarch butterfly, earmarking $3.2 million for the project.
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly in the family Nymphalidae or brush-footed butterflies. They lay their eggs on the underside of the young leaves of milkweed plants during the spring and early summer months. The Eastern North America monarch population is best known for its extraordinary migration from Southern Canada and the United States to Mexico, a distance of thousands of miles.
Those of us who are old enough may have fond memories of catching the black and yellow banded caterpillars, the larval stage of the monarch butterfly, and housing them in mom's canning jars with a sprig of milkweed in the hopes of it turning into a butterfly.
Danaus plexippus Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar. One of six that ate every last leaf off this plant.
Danaus plexippus Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar. One of six that ate every last leaf off this plant.
Linda Tanner
In the last 20 years, the monarch butterfly's population has declined from about one billion in 1996 to around 30 million today. That is a decline of almost 90 percent and seems to go along with the decline in the number of honeybees in recent years.
There are several reasons for the drastic drop in the monarch's numbers, primarily the loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, as well as development and cropland conversion. The degradation of their wintering habitats in Southern California and Mexico has also impacted the monarch butterfly.
Reasons for the declining population of monarch butterflies
Particularly troubling is the illegal logging of the Sacred fir, or oyamel in central and Southern forests of Mexico, the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly. Although the trees are in a federally protected zone, Mexican authorities still experience a great deal of problems prosecuting illegal loggers and the forests are being depleted.
Extremes of climate have also played a huge role in the decline of the monarch population. During their migration to and from Mexico, the butterflies have been facing extremes of weather variation. The heat makes them particularly vulnerable, as temperatures over 95 degrees F. are lethal to the larva. Eggs will dry out in hot and dry conditions, further decreasing their numbers.
The western North American population of monarch butterflies migrates to Southern California. Here w...
The western North American population of monarch butterflies migrates to Southern California. Here we see some monarchs On a Eucalyptus branch at Sweet Springs in Baywood-Los Osos. Located near Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County, central California.
"Mike" Michael L. Baird
The USFWS plan to bring back the monarch butterfly
Of the $3.2 million allocated for the monarch butterfly campaign, about $2.0 million will go to the conservation program. The rest will go to the Monarch Conservation Fund, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. They in turn will solicit donations to match USFWS funding.
Flowers and sap of Common Milkweed.
Flowers and sap of Common Milkweed.
The USFWS will concentrate on restoring milkweed to key areas along the migration routes, including spring breeding areas in Texas and Oklahoma, summer breeding grounds in the Midwest, and places west of the Rocky Mountains. This amounts to about 200,000 acres of reseeded lands. Additionally, people are being encouraged to plant asters and milkweed as part of the initiative. Wildlife officials say this is a situation that is solvable, and with everyone taking an interest, from school children on up, we can restore the beautiful monarch butterfly.
More about Monarch butterfly, Declining population, Milkweed, national fish and wildlife service, loss of habitat
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