Photo: Michael Warwick/Shutterstock

Nearly a Billion Monarch Butterflies Have Vanished Since 1990: Here's What's Being Done to Save Them

Canada Mexico United States Sustainability
by Ailsa Ross Feb 12, 2015

NORTH AMERICAN MONARCHS are an amazing keystone species — they’re the only butterfly to travel up to 3,000 miles in mass migrations from Canada and the US to Mexico for winter.

But since 1990, 970 million monarchs have vanished.

That’s a 90% fall in two decades. Only about 30 million remain, with climate change and the depletion of milkweed said to be the main factors in the butterflies’ decline.

The milkweed plant is the main food source of the monarch butterfly — it’s also their home and sole breeding ground across the United States — and it’s decreasing dramatically.

Factors contributing to the destruction of milkweed include the conversion of prairies to cropland, particularly across the crucial Interstate 35 corridor from Minnesota to Texas, home to 50% of monarchs during spring and summer, and the increased use of weed killer-resistant crops that allow farmers to douse fields in milkweed-destroying herbicides.

The imperiled butterflies’ source of food, nursery, and home is being decimated, and put simply, no milkweed means no monarchs. And this isn’t just about a butterfly; it’s about environmental health as a whole.

The good news is, in an attempt to counter twenty years of destruction, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service have just announced that they’ll be putting $3.2 million into restoring monarch habitats. $2 million will go into on-the-ground conservation — milkweed seeds will be planted in refuges and other areas the Fish and Wildlife Service controls, creating 200,000 acres of habitat along the I-35.

Fish and Wildlife will also encourage other federal and state agencies to do the same on public lands, and farmers and homeowners will be part of the solution, with seeds provided to anyone willing to plant milkweed in open spaces like roadsides, parks, forests, and flower boxes. Another $1.2 million will go toward generating further funds from private organizations.

Which means the next generation might just get to see brilliant skies filled with bright orange and black butterflies after all.

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