The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has signed a cooperative agreement with the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to allocate $3.2 million to provide habitat for the monarch butterfly.
In a news release, FWS said $2 million will fund conservation projects from California to the Corn Belt, “to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs while also supporting over 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. Many of the projects will focus on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer breeding habitats in the eastern population’s central flyway.”
Another $1.2 million will go to the NFWF for seed money.
According to FWS, the memorandum of understanding with NWF “will serve as a catalyst for national collaboration on monarch conservation, particularly in planting native milkweed and nectar plants, the primary food sources in breeding and migration habitats for the butterfly.”
“We can save the monarch butterfly in North America, but only if we act quickly and together,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe Ashe. “Together we can create oases for monarchs in communities across the country.”
The monarch’s exclusive larval host plant and a critical food source is native milkweed, which has been degraded in areas of the United States. FWS says the conversion of the continent’s native short and tallgrass prairie habitat to crop production has also had an adverse impact on the monarch.
Agricultural interests are keeping a close eye on recent monarch developments, including an announcement by FWS in December to conduct a one-year status review to determine whether Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for the monarch.
Environmental and anti-GMO groups have thrown their support behind the status review.
“The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save North America’s monarchs, so I’m really happy that these amazing butterflies are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
Anti-GMO groups such as CBD and the Center for Food Safety blame the decline in monarch butterfly populations on the adoption of Roundup Ready crops, which they contend have depleted the monarch’s milkweed habitat.
Jay Vroom of CropLife America said, “We’ve been controlling milkweed a lot longer than Roundup has been available. To single out the GE resistance and glyphosate technology is suspect and does not comport with scientific trends.
Agricultural interests are worried that Endangered Species Act protection could be used to regulate the use of genetically-engineered crops.
Damien Schiff, a property rights and environmental lawyer, said monarch populations, which cover the Midwest, the mountainous areas of Mexico and the California coast “raises the possibility of a huge critical habitat designation.”
The pesticide industry does not believe a listing is justified and plans to oppose the listing petition, said Vroom. “This is another marathon journey.”