It has been an exciting autumn for the monarch conservation community. In addition to the many ways individuals can get involved to create habitat for monarchs, MJV partners and other organizations have been hard at work to restore habitat and monitor for monarchs. Here are four monarch conservation project highlights from fall 2015.
2016 Monarch Conservation Strategy Launched by USDA
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently announced their investment of $4 million toward monarch conservation in 2016. Through programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Conservation Stewardship Program, NRCS will support producers in the creation, enhancement, or management of monarch habitat on agricultural lands throughout the southern Great Plains and the Midwest.
Milkweed growing in agricultural lands used to be abundant, supporting large numbers of monarchs that would either reproduce or go on to populate their overwintering grounds. With much of this important breeding habitat having diminished throughout the country, this step in restoring monarch habitat in agricultural areas is critical.
Additionally, practices that benefit monarchs can also benefit producers. Milkweed and diverse nectar sources are good for other pollinators, and provide homes for beneficial insects. Targeted NRCS conservation practices also reduce erosion, increase soil health, control invasive species, provide quality forage for livestock and make agricultural operations more resilient and productive (1).
Visit NRCS’ monarch website to learn more about their strategy and opportunities to get involved.
The Texas Funnel: A Conservation Plan for an Important Monarch State
Texas has published a pioneering State Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan to address the vital role Texas plays in the species’ annual cycle.
Eastern monarchs funnel through Texas on their way south to the Mexican overwintering grounds. When the northward migration begins again in the spring, Texas provides vital breeding habitat for these re-migrants. Therefore, abundant milkweed in the spring and late blooming nectar resources in Texas are critical for monarchs.
MJV partner Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has taken the lead in creating and implementing the plan, along with an array of diverse partner organizations including many others in the MJV. Partners will act on four broad categories of monarch and native pollinator conservation: habitat conservation, education and outreach, research and monitoring and partnerships (2). Visit the TPWD website to read the plan for a full list of conservation actions and background information.
In addition, other states have launched statewide planning efforts to conserve monarchs, including Missouri, Ohio, Iowa and Arkansas to name a few.
2014 Pacific Grove Overwintering Report
Four MJV partners, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, the Xerces Society, Monarch Alert and Monarch Health, joined forces to better understand monarch populations, monarch health and monarch movement in Monterey County, CA last winter. A report was released this September announcing their results.
From November 2014 to February 2015, citizen scientists and Pacific Grove Museum staff counted monarch populations regularly at all known overwintering sites in the county to capture the seasonal fluctuation of the population and contribute to the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. The Museum worked with Monarch Alert to tag monarchs at their three most populated sites to examine inter-site movement and track the butterflies’ migration paths. Finally, the study measured the infection rate of the common monarch parasite OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) in monarchs at the same three sites. Staff and citizen scientists collected ~1,200 samples for analysis. Read the results of this study on the PG Museum website.
Monarchs to Greet Travelers at Virginia Highway Rest Stops
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) teamed up with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and other local partners in September to plant 8,000+ pollinator-friendly plants at the Dale City Rest Area on Interstate 95 north in Northern Virginia. This project is part of VDOT’s Pollinator Habitat Program, which aims to create monarch waystations at all highway rest stops for monarchs and other threatened pollinators.
The Dale City project features a 15,000 square-foot meadow restoration, along with two smaller plantings near the rest area building which will serve as educational stations with interpretive signage for visitors. This rest area is visited by 1.3M people annually.
“With its thousands of miles of medians and roadsides, VDOT is uniquely positioned to be a leader in monarch and pollinator recovery,” said Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy President Nicole Hamilton. “This project is a wonderful example of the plants and habitat that is needed to bring back the Monarchs, bees and other pollinators." (3)
Thank you to all our partners and everyone who has and is currently contributing to monarch conservation! Continued and expanded efforts across the country are essential to improve population numbers, and we are eager to hear reports not only of overwintering population status, but also of how you are contributing to an international effort to conserve an iconic species. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!
1. US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Monarch Butterflies”
2. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Monarch Butterfly”
3. Virginia Department of Transportation, “VDOT’S Pollinator Habitat Program Moves Towards Statewide Implemenation”
The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners.