Milkweed Efforts Already Impacting The Monarch Butterfly Population

After herbicides eliminated close to 99 percent of milkweed in corn and soybean fields in the American Midwest since 1999, leaving the monarch butterfly population at only one-tenth of its population, monarch butterfly advocates’ dedicated efforts are already paying off, according to a new report. This year, the monarch population hasn’t just stopped declining, these pollinators have begun to rebound. Proof of the success of milkweed-fostering efforts is most clearly evident in Mexico, where scientists are saying that they believe that this year’s population of the orange and black pollinators will be triple the size of last year’s population.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that Mexico, Canada, and the United States are working together to create pesticide-free zones for monarch butterflies. These efforts follow President Obama’s Presidential Memorandum, which was issued to protect the nation’s pollinators and resulted in a strategy released from the White House pledging stronger efforts to protect pollinators like honeybees and monarch butterflies.

“Mexico, the U.S., and Canada have many species that don’t know our political borders, that cross the borders freely,” Interior Secretary Jewell said during a conference at the Piedra Herrada research reserve.

Jewell said the administration hopes to see 225 million monarch butterflies returning to Mexico every year, adding, “We believe we can get there by working together and it sounds like we may be on our way, we hope.”

Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano said that the monarch population this year could cover nearly four hectares, according to True Activist.

Pollinators make the U.S. billions of dollars annually by pollinating agricultural crops. Interior Secretary Jewell said that the monarch habitat, which spans from Canada into Mexico, must be protected if the species is to survive. To stay on track towards the goal of 225 million monarch butterflies, the species will need to cover six hectares in five years. Though this goal may seem attainable given the expansive growth the species has seen in just one year, it’s still significantly less than the 19 hectares that they covered during the 1996-1997 winter season, according to Mexico News Daily, which blames both illegal logging in Mexican monarch wintering grounds and an increase in pesticide use in the United States for the decline of the monarchs.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a world heritage site containing most of the over-wintering sites of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly, creates jobs for 250 families at just the Piedra Herrada sanctuary. The entire reserve maintains 56,000 protected hectares, according to Mexico Daily News.

This year, the annual migration of monarchs to Mexico involved a detour to the east towards ravines of the Sierra Madre Oriental in order to avoid Hurricane Patricia, according to Gloria Tavera of the Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp), who told Reuters that the monarchs are very sensitive to changes in the humidity. Still, monarch researcher Gail Morris from Arizona said that the strong winds simply blew the butterflies off course this year, causing their delay.

In the United States, the USDA is devoting millions on a new project in order to help the monarchs. The USDA will be putting most of its efforts into partnering with farmers and ranchers in order to replant the milkweed that has been lost. Milkweed, according to the USDA, is also a key source of food for honeybees in addition to being the monarchs’ first home and food supply.

[Image via Pixabay]