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Monarch Collaborative Urges Building on Butterfly Conservation
Minnesota Ag Connection - 02/17/2017

Farmers, landowners, conservationists, businesses, and citizen groups are making steady progress promoting the conservation of monarch butterflies and expanding habitat. However, the 2016-2017 overwintering population estimate recently released by the World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican National Commission of Protected Natural Areas shows an urgent need for expanded implementation of conservation action to improve the monarch's North American population.

The survey showed overwintering monarch butterflies covered 2.91 hectares of forest in December 2016 compared to 4.01 hectares the previous year and 18 hectares during the 1996 peak -- a decline by 27 percent in the number of eastern monarch butterflies migrating to Mexican forests compared to the previous year.

Monarch butterflies face a wide array of challenges including a loss of habitat and lack of access to milkweed and nectar resources. Monarchs also face threats from weather and climate, predators, pathogens and parasites, and declining winter habitat in Mexico that collectively contribute to the overall population decline.

"Farmers and agricultural producers are stewards of the land across much of the eastern monarch butterfly's habitat -- placing them in a unique position to support sustainable monarch populations," said Ethan Mathews, Director of Public Policy for the National Corn Growers Association. "These new population numbers underscore the challenges the eastern monarch butterfly population faces -- as well as the unique role agricultural stakeholders can play."

The population survey results follow on the heels of an agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide farmers and agricultural producers with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act as they implement practices to improve monarch habitat under some 2014 Farm Bill programs. The Monarch Collaborative hailed this agreement and urged farmers, ranchers, and land owners across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin to utilize this opportunity.

Farmers, agricultural stakeholders, land owners, and other citizens in the Monarch Flyway are beginning to make progress toward the current goal of creating or restoring significant acreage of monarch habitat in the United States.

"Farmers and ranchers know from experience that responsible stewardship of the environment and sound business practices are not mutually exclusive," said Ryan Yates, Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. "Efforts to expand voluntary conservation programs supported through innovative public-private investments will help to accelerate establishment of monarch habitat."

"Farmers and ranchers need protection from potential endangered species liability in order to increase monarch habitat. For example, the protection for conservation actions should be extended to include the Conservation Reserve Program," said Alex Echols of the Sand County Foundation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a review of monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act. The Service has until June 2019 to determine whether or not to list the species -- which provides farmers and agricultural stakeholders and other private landowners with limited time to implement effective voluntary conservation efforts.

The Monarch Collaborative is a diverse and dedicated group of organizations working to develop collaborative strategies to support a sustainable population of monarch butterflies while meeting agricultural productivity and habitat conservation goals. The Collaborative's membership includes a diverse and dedicated group of organizations spanning the research community, agricultural production, conservation causes, public agencies, and others working to develop collaborative solutions to address this challenge.

To learn more about the Monarch Collaborative, visit keystone.org/monarch.

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