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Predictability provided for monarch butterfly conservation measuresPredictability provided for monarch butterfly conservation measures

Monarch butterfly is a new national priority species of Working Lands for Wildlife.

February 3, 2017

4 Min Read
Predictability provided for monarch butterfly conservation measures
USDA photo by Charles Bryson

The monarch butterfly is a new national priority species of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The agreement provides farmers and agricultural producers with predictability as they implement practices to improve monarch habitat.

Populations of monarchs, a pollinator species cherished across North America, have declined significantly during the past two decades. This collaboration aims to help the species recover by working with agricultural producers to make wildlife-friendly improvements on their farms, ranches and forests.

“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,” NRCS chief Jason 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.”

NRCS and FWS recently completed a conference report that explains how conservation practices can help the eastern monarch population -- a species known for its remarkable, multigenerational annual migration between central Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. This report is an initial step toward adding the monarch to WLFW, which uses a science-based, targeted approach to help a variety of at-risk species.

“We need to make every effort to help ensure monarchs don’t become endangered now and in the long term,” FWS 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.”

The monarch butterfly joins an array of wildlife species across the country that already are part of WLFW, including the greater sage-grouse and New England cottontail -- two recent success stories in species conservation. FWS determined in 2015 that the two species didn’t warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of voluntary conservation efforts underway to restore habitat.

Through WLFW, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help producers adopt conservation practices that benefit the monarch. Meanwhile, through the conference report, FWS provides producers with regulatory predictability should the monarch become listed under the ESA. Predictability provides landowners with peace of mind – no matter the legal status of a species under ESA – that they can keep their working lands working with NRCS conservation systems in place.

Work through WLFW centers on 10 states in the Midwest and southern Great Plains that are considered the core of the monarch’s migration route and breeding habitat. Much of this work will focus on planting and enhancing stands of milkweed and other high-value nectar plants for monarchs. Assistance is available to producers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

For farmers and ranchers who implement conservation measures under an NRCS-approved conservation plan, FWS provides, under the conference report, long-term clarity that they will be in compliance with the ESA for their conservation actions, should the species be listed.

FWS has committed significant funding – $20 million over five years – to support monarch conservation efforts. Additionally, FWS is working with partners, including the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, National Wildlife Federation and the Mexican and Canadian governments, to leverage resources and investments to support and implement conservation actions across the continent.

The Monarch Collaborative, a group of organizations working to support monarch butterfly conservation on the agricultural landscape, welcomed the agreement with NRCS that provides farmers and agricultural producers with predictability as they implement practices to improve monarch habitat.

“Farmers, ranchers and land owners across the southern Great Plains and Midwest have key roles to play -- in collaboration with private companies, conservation organizations and government agencies -- to help address the challenges the eastern monarch butterfly population faces,” said Eric Sachs, science, technology and outreach lead at ‎Monsanto Co.

“This timely and important step provides farmers and other key agricultural stakeholders with much-needed predictability surrounding their operations as they support monarch butterfly conservation and work to produce the food, feed, fiber and fuel the world needs,” said Wayne Fredericks, who serves on the board of directors of the American Soybean Assn.

The conference report and federal guidance are especially important given the ongoing review of monarch butterflies under the ESA. FWS has until June 2019 to determine whether or not to list the species, which provides farmers and agricultural stakeholders with limited time to implement effective voluntary conservation efforts. FWS has said it hopes -- through implementing conservation measures on agricultural lands and other private and public lands -- that the monarch butterfly won't have to be listed.

Producers interested in monarch conservation practices should contact their local USDA service center for NRCS assistance in enrolling through several farm bill programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

The Monarch Collaborative is a multi-sector initiative to promote collaborative strategies to support a sustainable population of monarch butterflies while meeting agricultural productivity and conservation goals. The collaborative’s membership includes organizations spanning the research community, agricultural production, conservation causes, public agencies and others working to develop collaborative solutions to address this challenge.

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