The declining monarch butterfly population is the focus of a new conservation plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that includes spending $4 million in Wisconsin and nine other states to increase the number of native plants, such as milkweed, that butterflies need to survive.
The investment will help farmers, conservation partners and others in agriculture plant milkweed and nectar-rich plants along streams, fence lines and other field borders and in pastures and other locations, said Justin Fritscher, a spokesman for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The plan was unveiled Thursday by the NRCS at the annual conference of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters in Kansas City.
The lack of milkweed in key states, including Wisconsin, is the biggest reason the monarch population has declined from more than 1 billion in 1996 to 34 million this year, Fritscher said. Monarch caterpillars need milkweed to complete the life cycle, and adult butterflies need nectar-producing plants for energy during their migration routes, he said.
“Milkweed is so crucial because it’s the only food for monarch caterpillars,” Fritscher said.
The orange-and-black monarch is one of the most familiar butterflies because of its size and beauty and its annual, multi-generational migration from central Mexico to as far north as Canada. But the monarch also is important because it’s a barometer of sorts for the status of the ecosystem, Fritscher said. “When you see the monarch decline, it’s something you should take note of. It plays an important role as an indicator species,” he added.
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The NRCS will assist with planting and supplying seeds and site preparation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, Fritscher said.
That is the migratory corridor of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly. The smaller western population is west of the Rocky Mountains and migrates to the California coast.
Loss of monarch habitat in the Midwest has been high in recent years, and the recent drop in grain prices may provide opportunities for NRCS to target monarch habitat efforts on less productive croplands as well as with partners in conservation easements, Fritscher said.
The plan announced Thursday is similar to one announced earlier this year by the USDA that distributed $4 million to six states, including Wisconsin, to boost the declining honeybee population, Fritscher said.