(CN) – Working Lands for Wildlife, a partnership of two federal agencies, has selected monarch butterflies as a new national priority species for conservation on farms, ranches and forests.
The partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides conservation assistance to agricultural producers.
“Two-thirds of the continental United States is privately owned, making the land management decisions of America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners essential to pollinator health,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said.
The partnership is focusing its efforts in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin, the ten states that comprise an essential segment of the butterflies’ migration route between Mexico and Canada.
“Producers can make simple and inexpensive tweaks on working lands that provide monumental benefits to monarch butterflies and a variety of other insects and wildlife,” Weller said. “By adding the monarch to Working Lands for Wildlife, we can accelerate conservation for the species at the heart of its migration corridor.”
Monarch butterflies, extremely important pollinators, migrate thousands of miles from Mexico across the United States to Canada, and they do it over several generations, USFWS said. Though climate change and habitat loss have contributed to the species’ decline, pesticide use is hugely implicated. These butterflies are currently being considered for Endangered Species Act protection, according to the agency.
“We need to make every effort to help ensure monarchs don’t become endangered now and in the long term,” USFWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius said. “Conservation efforts on agricultural lands across the nation can have a significant positive impact on monarchs as well as many other pollinator insects and birds. Working with farmers and other private landowners, we can ensure a future filled with monarchs.”
In May 2015, President Barack Obama directed the heads of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to co-chair the Pollinator Health Task Force. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted at the time that the president emphasized the need for an “all hands on deck” approach to conserving pollinator health and to foster inter-agency collaboration to mitigate the challenges to pollinator survival.
Last week, the EPA acknowledged that the three most widely used pesticides in the United States are dangerous for pollinators, yet on the same day, in what was seen by environmentalists as a bow to industry, the agency refused to restrict their use.
“Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have both acute and chronic effects on honeybees, birds, butterflies and other pollinator species, and they are a major factor in overall pollinator declines,” the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) conservation organization said.
“It’s shocking that the EPA’s response to the crisis of declining pollinators and the abundant science linking that decline to neonicotinoid insecticides is to meekly offer a policy encouraging industry to consider restricting pesticide use in limited situations where plants are blooming while commercial honeybees have been brought in to work the fields. This is a rejection of science that should be deeply troubling to all Americans as we move into a Trump administration,” CBD’s Environmental Health program director Lori Ann Burd said.
Given that a ban on these dangerous pesticides apparently will not be enacted any time soon, Working Lands for Wildlife is counting on voluntary conservation efforts to stop the monarch’s decline and prevent it needing ESA protection. The USFWS has committed $20 million over five years, and the NRCS has committed $6 million over the past two years to support monarch conservation efforts. The partnership is working with other federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations such as General Mills and the Xerces Society, as well as with both Canada and Mexico to reverse the butterfly’s population decline, currently estimated at 34 million, down from one billion in 1995.
“To date, our work with NRCS has resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres of new or improved habitat,” Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society, said. “This partnership will allow us to expand conservation support in the Midwest, Northeast and California, reaching many more farmers and bringing greater benefits to the pollinators on which we all rely.”
The decline of pollinators is becoming an international emergency. Approximately 75 percent of the world’s food depends on pollinators, and global population declines are being documented in both vertebrate pollinators like bats and hummingbirds, and invertebrate pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
The partnership has developed more than three dozen practices that land managers can use to support pollinators, including planting contour buffer strips and cover crops, hedgerow planting, integrated pest management, windbreak establishment, building structures for wildlife, multi-story cropping, forage planting, stream habitat improvement, and management of prescribed burns and grazing.
Land managers interested in assistance can contact their local USDA service center. Enrollment applications are being accepted on a continuous basis.