WWF-Mexico hosted a press conference this morning to release the status of the 2013-2014 monarch overwintering population measured in central Mexico. The news, while somewhat expected, was hard for monarch researchers, conservationists, and enthusiasts to hear. After reaching an all-time low during the winter of 2012-2013 (occupying 1.19 hectares), this year the area occupied by monarchs is a meager 0.67 hectares. Only 7 sanctuaries in Mexico had butterflies this December, with the largest, El Rosario, containing the majority of the population. What does this mean for the monarch migration? We’ve got work to do.
Dr. Karen Oberhauser from the University of Minnesota addressed the United States perspective on monarch conservation during the press conference. She discussed the need for trilateral cooperation between Mexico, Canada, and the United States to ensure that there is 1) sufficient high quality habitat on monarchs’ wintering grounds; and 2) sufficient breeding and migratory habitat in all three countries.
Habitat protection for monarchs in the U.S. is of extreme importance in the upcoming breeding season. Habitat protection in monarch wintering sites alone cannot protect the spectacular North American monarch migration from intensifying human pressures. Read more about major threats to monarchs in the U.S. on our threats page. While the largest threat to breeding and migratory monarchs in the U.S. is habitat loss, it will be increasingly important to address all threats to monarchs in the face of low population numbers.
The Monarch Joint Venture is a partnership of conservation agencies and educational and research programs aiming to do just this. Our work is based on the North American Monarch Conservation Plan, which outlines a science-based strategy for monarch conservation. We have set a solid groundwork for monarch conservation that will now require the engagement of many players throughout the monarch’s range. This groundwork involves three strategies to address monarch habitat needs: 1) habitat restoration and enhancement; 2) increasing milkweed availability for habitat enhancement on public and private lands; and 3) providing tools and guidelines to inform monarch conservation efforts. These efforts include promoting carefully-designed mowing, burning, thinning, and harvesting regimes designed to restore ecosystem structure and species composition; increasing the availability of milkweed seeds for large-scale planting; inclusion of biogeographically native milkweed and nectar plants in habitat restoration plantings; and seeding utility and roadside right-of-ways with native plants, including local milkweed species.
Any discussion of monarch habitat conservation in the U.S. would be incomplete without touching on the tremendous work done by private citizens. A recent survey showed that very large numbers of people in the U.S. place high value on monarchs, and we are working to provide tools that will allow them use their love for this amazing insect to promote its long-term survival.
Through our collective efforts, monarch populations can rebound, so that their migrations may be appreciated by many generations to come. As stated by Dr. Oberhauser, “Conservation biology is essentially a science of hope”. Together, organizations teaming up with each other and passionate individuals can maximize conservation impacts, inspiring others to take action as well. Monarchs need your commitment today.