Q&A Messages for Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy

image of Monarch butterfly chrysalis - it is a beautiful pale jade green color and trimmed with metallic gold accents.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis. Photo by Ed Boggess

What is the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy and what is its overall goal?

  • The Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (MAFWA) has taken a leadership role for monarch butterfly conservation in its eastern range and is working with a wide range of partners on a Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy. The goal of this strategy is to coordinate state and partner efforts to achieve habitat restoration and enhancement to support an average overwintering eastern monarch population occupying six hectares in Mexico, consistent with international goals.

How is the development of the Strategy governed?

  • MAFWA has set up a Board of Directors to oversee the development of the Strategy. The Board consists of state fish and wildlife directors or their designees from 17 states, plus ex-officio members from key partner agencies and nongovernmental organizations (Governance Structure (Adobe Acrobat/.pdf), membership list (Adobe Acrobat/.pdf)0.
image of a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar. It has black antannae and is decorated with black, white, and yellow stripse

Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Photo by Ed Boggess.

Why is a regional strategy necessary?

  • The eastern monarch population has declined by over 80 percent in the past 20 years and monarchs were petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2014. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be deciding whether monarchs should be listed by June of 2019. The core range of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly stretches beyond existing regional organizational structures, making coordinated conservation across state and regional lines challenging, but necessary. This Mid-America strategy helps provide such coordination.

Why have eastern monarchs declined and what can be done about it?

  • Preliminary findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service species status assessment have identified the following threats believed to be having a significant influence on eastern monarch populations: loss of milkweed, loss of nectar resources, insecticide impacts in the U.S., and degradation of overwintering habitat in Mexico. Loss of milkweed and nectar resources are attributable to use of glyphosate-ready crops in the Midwest, conversion of native grasslands to other uses, and degradation of habitat value for monarchs due to impacts of management practices and invasive species.
  • Loss of milkweed across the northern range of the eastern monarch population and loss or degradation of nectar resources in the southern range have been identified as the major factors leading to monarch declines, and thus habitat restoration and enhancement will be the primary focus of the Mid-America Strategy.
  • The Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy will be based on voluntary, incentive-based approaches with a goal to avoid a regulatory outcome or minimize its impacts (such as monarchs becoming listed under the federal Endangered Species Act). The Strategy will include objectives to address the three identified U.S. threats through habitat enhancement and restoration and through promotion of best practices to minimize insecticide impacts to habitats.
image of a Monarch butterfly chrysalis about to open. The butterfly's wings are clearly visible through the now transparant outer casing.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis about to open. Photo by Ed Boggess.

How long will it take to restore the needed amount of monarch habitat?

  • The plan envisions long-term implementation over at least 20 years, with an accelerated effort over the first 10 years. An adaptive approach will be used to adjust goals (up or down) and strategies, as informed by monitoring and evaluation of plan implementation, monarch population response, and new science.

Where will monarch habitat improvement be focused?

image of an adult Monarch Butterfly resting on a raspberry bush

An adult Monarch butterfly resting on a raspberry bush. Photo by Ed Boggess

What is the overall goal for habitat enhancement and restoration?

  • The Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy Board of Directors has established a goal of 1.3 billion additional milkweed stems over the next 20 years in the North Core Monarch Conservation Unit. This goal is based on the minimum number currently identified by peer-reviewed scientific publications as necessary to maintain a viable eastern monarch population.
  • Recently published articles call for anywhere from 1.3-1.8 billion additional milkweed stems in the northern conservation units of the eastern monarch population (Pleasants 2016, Thogmartin et al. 2017, Thogmartin et al. 2017a). Some estimates are based on the numbers of milkweeds needed to maintain an average of 6 hectares of occupied overwintering habitat in Mexico based on the amount of milkweed lost; the other methodology uses an estimate of approximately 29 milkweed plants necessary to produce one fall migratory adult monarch (Nail et al. 2015) and the total number of overwintering monarchs needed for six hectares of occupied overwintering habitat in Mexico.
  • In addition to milkweed increases in the North core conservation unit, milkweed stems will also be added in the North Exterior conservation unit through state and partner efforts and conservation programs in that area.
  • Monarch conservation and nectar resource goals for the South Core conservation unit, where milkweed is not believed to be limiting, have not yet been established but a workshop is being planned to help facilitate their development. Additional habitat will be added in the South Exterior conservation unit as well through state and partner efforts and conservation programs in that area.
image of a lush patch of milkweed in full bloom.

Milkweed in full bloom. Photo by Ed Boggess

How will you decide how much habitat is needed and where?

  • A habitat planning allocation tool has been developed to help calculate how many milkweed stems might be added by enhancing or restoring habitats in various “sectors” of land, such as agricultural lands, rights-of-way, urban lands, protected grasslands, etc. The tool is intended to help inform decisions, not to make decisions about where or how many milkweed stems will be added. Final decisions on habitat goals will be made by individual states working with partners.

When will the plan be completed and who will implement it?

  • Regional goals and objectives, as informed by state-level discussions among partners, will be included in the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy to be completed by June 2018. Implementation will be through the application of state-specific plans and conservation efforts and will involve numerous partner agencies, organizations, and landowners. This will be only the first phase of a long-term strategy that will require increased commitment of people and resources and enhanced monarch and pollinator implementation and monitoring efforts by many partners over the next 20 years.