Groups Demand More Federal Money to Save Monarchs

A Monarch butterfly hangs from its favorite treat: a milkweed flower. A study links the weed killer Roundup to the iconic butterfly’s decline.

(CN) – Dozens of conservation groups asked the federal government this week to invest at least $100 million in milkweed plants to help the monarch butterfly population, which has taken a hit due to herbicides used in the Corn Belt region of the Midwest.

The federal government spent just $4 million last year to restore the milkweed habitat. According to over 100 conservation and environmental groups, that isn’t enough to help the colorful orange and black butterfly.

They want the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to spend at least $100 million to restore a million acres of milkweed, according to a letter from the conservationists addressed to the heads of those government agencies.

“The monarch population has been decreasing toward extinction due to landscape-scale threats from pesticides, development and global climate change,” the letter, released by the Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday, said. “Because of the ubiquitous spraying and increased use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) and neonicotinoids on corn and soy, nearly 165 million acres of milkweed has been lost.”

According to the center, the monarch butterfly population has dropped by more than 80 percent in the last 20 years.

In a statement, the center’s endangered species policy specialist Stephanie Kurose said the National Resources Conservation Service needs to take action to save the monarch butterfly.

“It’s heartbreaking that these magnificent orange and black butterflies that were once such a familiar sight are now declining toward extinction,” said Kurose.

Monarch butterflies are not the best example of pollinators, said Chip Taylor, an insect ecologist, director of Monarch Watch and professor at the University of Kansas.

The decimation of the monarch population says more about their migration and their connection to losing grassland habitats, and other areas that are used by pollinators.

“If you don’t have a high degree of insect biodiversity then you don’t have bird diversity, and birds are incredibly dependent on the insects, which are supported by the plants, which are supported by the pollinators,” said Taylor.

With the drop in their population, monarchs say we’re collapsing the system. “It’s a cascading sort of thing,” said Taylor.

He would like to see better use of existing pollinator habitat programs and improvement of the quality of their maintenance.

Taylor does not think the Trump administration is likely to increase funding for monarch butterfly habitat. Also, it’s not likely the Farm Service Agency will increase the amount of Conservation Reserve Program land, which is what the conservation groups want.

Over the years, the federal government has spent $507.5 million to keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list, according to the conservationists.

In order to save the monarch habitat, more cropland must be set aside for the butterflies, and the federal government must fully fund existing conservation programs.

The USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service did not respond by email for comment.


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