The monarch butterfly has captured the imagination of adults and children alike. This stunning species is not only beautiful—it is the only species of butterfly that makes a two-way migration. The monarch cannot tolerate the northern cold, so it migrates south to the mountains of Mexico for the winter, sometimes flying as far as 3,000 miles from its summer home in Canada, and then it journeys north again in the spring.
Unfortunately, the monarch butterfly is in serious trouble. Its population has declined by more than 90% in the past two decades. The decline of the monarch butterfly and many other pollinators has potentially alarming consequences for natural ecosystems as well as for food production for people.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently studying the status of the species to determine if it should be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The reason for the precipitous decline is primarily the loss of the monarch’s exclusive larval host plant and a critical food source – native milkweed, which has been eradicated and or severely degraded in many areas across the U.S. due to overuse by pesticides by commercial agriculture and conventional gardening practices in suburban and urban areas. The accelerated conversion of the continent’s native short and tall grass prairie habitat to crop production has had an adverse impact on the monarch, and climate change has intensified weather events which may also impact the monarch population.
The National Wildlife Federation recognizes the increased need for native milkweed to restore monarch habitat across large landscapes, suburban and urban gardens. Because, the lack of native milkweed is a limiting factor for the monarch butterfly, localized efforts to increase the supply of native milkweed is critical. On a national level, the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other partners have joined forces to help protect the monarch by working to bring back native milkweed and other nectar producing plants that the species relies upon for breeding and feeding along its migratory route.
The I-35 Highway is a particularly important corridor for the monarch as it traverses the most important habitat for the migrating monarch butterfly. National Wildlife Federation is encouraging communities up and down the I-35 corridor to do all they can to create and restore monarch habitat in their backyards, parks and schools. We are enlisting transportation departments to plant nectar and milkweed plants along the roadside, and we are reaching out to farmers along the corridor encouraging them to incorporate milkweed back into the lands that are not in crop production.
In September 2015 the National Wildlife Federation launched the Mayors' Monarch Pledge, which asks mayors along the central monarch flyway (Austin to the Great Lakes) and other local government chief executives across the nation to take action to help save the monarch butterfly. These cities and municipalities are committing to create habitat and educate citizens about how they can make a difference at home.
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