Growing Returns

Latest population count could spell doom for the monarch. Unless we act now.

The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count began in 1997, when scientists first noticed declines and started to track the population.

In the years since, the western monarch butterfly population (the smaller of the two North American populations, which overwinters on the California coast) has dropped dramatically, and this year’s preliminary data is especially alarming.

Early reports on this year’s count suggest that populations have dropped 86 percent since last year, with the population at less than 0.5 percent of historic levels. Approximately 20,000 monarchs were counted at the monarch’s overwintering sites this Thanksgiving, compared to 148,000 counted last year. The Xerces Society estimates that the overall population will be around 30,000.

So far, 97 of the monarch’s overwintering sites along the California coast have been counted, representing approximately 75 percent of the total western population. (Photo Credit: Amy Marbach)

This is a grim number, especially when you consider studies showing that 30,000 butterflies is the average population needed to avoid a complete collapse of the western migration, and extinction of the entire western population.

It’s clear that western monarchs cannot survive even one more year of decline like this one. Read More »

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Monarch butterflies are migrating in large numbers, with support from some unlikely allies

Monarch butterflies fueled on recently planted prairie habitat on hog farms in Missouri this summer before beginning their annual fall migration south.

You may have noticed more monarch butterflies than usual this year. There’s a reason for that.

Researchers are finding that monarch populations are at the fourth highest level since 1993 – making this year’s population currently migrating south for the winter one of the highest of the past 25 years.

That’s great news for the beloved orange and black butterfly, which has faced a 95 percent population decline since the 1980s. This dramatic loss has been driven largely by increased applications of herbicides across the agricultural landscape, and additional threats posed by extreme weather and climate change.

But citizens, conservationists and even some forward-thinking companies are highly motivated to help recover the monarch before it’s too late.

Read More »

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Trump attacks vital conservation tool for threatened and endangered species, misses real problem

Critical habitat designations are an essential tool in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) toolbox. They are the primary mechanism Congress created to accomplish the goal of the act, “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.”

Critical habitat is the science-based determination of specific areas that are essential for a species’ survival. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service designate critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, like the marbled murrelet and piping plover, to signal to federal agencies, landowners, industries and conservationists where habitat protections should be prioritized and impacts avoided. Photo credit: Kathy1006

Because habitat loss and fragmentation is currently the leading cause of extinction, it’s vital to protect areas that currently contain the physical and biological features that are essential for species survival today.

Supporting imperiled species also requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) identify and protect historic ranges that can be restored or rehabilitated, provide key features or dynamic forces essential to species, or potentially become suitable habitat due to climate change. Critical habitat designations are the tool the Services use to do this.

As important as they are, critical habitat designations don’t come without controversy. Read More »

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Trump’s ESA overhaul won’t give Americans what they want. Here’s what will.

We are observing the most coordinated set of attacks on the Endangered Species Act since it was signed into law nearly a half century ago.

Bald eagle soars thanks to endangered species act

The bald eagle – our nation’s symbol – would have likely gone extinct if not for the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Learn how our nation’s symbol soared back from the brink. Photo Credit: Bob Jensen

The latest series of assaults – from legislation introduced in Congress to proposed changes by the Trump administration – fall into the increasingly perilous partisan trap that pits industrial and economic interests against the environment and public health.

This two-sided narrative consistently drowns out moderate voices in national media coverage and has created an illusion of broad disagreement around the ESA that simply does not exist.

Recent surveys show that 83 percent of Americans support the ESA, including 74 percent of conservatives.

That’s a lot of bipartisan support. Yet House legislators and the Trump administration are pushing extreme proposals that cater to the political whims of a few special interests.

Americans deserve better. Here are six actions that will improve protections for wildlife, preserve our outdoor heritage and strengthen local communities. Read More »

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How the farm bill helps landowners and wildlife thrive together

This week, the Senate advanced a farm bill that includes many important provisions for conservation on America’s working farms, ranches and forestlands. Among these provisions is language codifying the Working Lands for Wildlife program that helps farmers and ranchers restore habitat for at-risk wildlife. It’s the first time the program has been formally recognized in the farm bill.

Thanks to the work of private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, and state and government agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in September 2015 to remove the New England cottontail from the endangered species candidate list due to recovery. (Photo credit: Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist at Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.)

Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, USDA provides technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily make improvements to wildlife habitat on their property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pairs this with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s a win-win approach for improving agricultural productivity while enhancing habitat for wildlife.

Read More »

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Raise a glass (of tequila!) to celebrate this endangered bat’s recovery

When the lesser long-nosed bat was first listed as an endangered species 30 years ago, there were fewer than 1,000 bats in existence. Today, the bat’s population has grown to an estimated 200,000 bats living in 75 roosts across the southwestern United States and Mexico.

A lesser long-nosed bat feeding on an Agave blossom at night in Tucson, Arizona.

The lesser long-nosed bat is one of only three nectar-feeding bat species in the U.S. – uniquely providing valuable ecosystem services through bat pollination and the dispersal of fruit seeds, including for agave plants used in tequila production.

The relationship between bats and tequila may seem obscure at first, but the bat-plant association is so strong that the disappearance of one would threaten the survival of the other.

BATS Magazine

The lesser long-nosed bat is the first bat species to be removed from the endangered species list due to successful recovery. How the bat bounced back is not your typical conservation success story. Read More »

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What to watch for during today’s farm bill markup in the House

The House Agriculture Committee meets today to begin markup on the 2018 draft farm bill. While markup is only the first step of a long process, it will tell us a lot about the road ahead.

The farm bill provides the largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands – and with 70 percent of U.S. land privately managed, the farm bill is a major driver of efforts to improve water and air quality, increase wildlife habitat and build drought resilience.

While much of the focus will be on whether the Conservation Stewardship Program will be folded into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), here are six additional conservation items to keep an eye on during markup. Read More »

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A rare desert wildflower is no longer endangered, but the law that saved it may be

When most people think about the Endangered Species Act, they picture the bald eagle, the sea turtle or the grizzly bear. They don’t think as often about the grasses, ferns, flowers and conifers that the ESA also protects.

That makes sense when you consider that there are approximately 26 known animal species for every known plant species. But animals, including humans of course, rely heavily on plants for food, oxygen, shelter and more.

Just like animals, plants increasingly face habitat loss, pollution, disease and climate change, which threaten their existence.

There are currently 949 species of plants listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, including several species of cactus, mint and milkweed – a vital plant for monarch butterflies. But even the more obscure and isolated plants demonstrate how closely plant resilience is tied to the health of both local and broader ecosystems. Read More »

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Why Trump should care about the fate of the sage-grouse even more than African elephants

When the Trump administration announced that it was lifting the ban on imports of game trophies, there was public outcry. For days, my twitter feed was filled with photos of African elephants. It was, in Trump’s words, a “horror show” – one that ultimately ended when the president made the decision to keep the trophy ban in place.

At the same time the trophy ban was making headlines across the globe, a different story was unfolding back home. A great American wildlife conservation story was being rewritten. Read More »

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I’m a rancher, and I support the Endangered Species Act

In a recent op-ed for The Hill, Robert Henneke of the Texas Public Policy Foundation shared his opinion that “The Endangered Species Act is an ineffective regulatory burden.” I believe Mr. Henneke lacked a full perspective of the bedrock American environmental policy.

As a fellow Texan, I was surprised to see Mr. Henneke forget about the great wildlife success stories in our home state. The whooping crane, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and the Northern Aplomado Falcon have all experienced growing populations in Texas, thanks to conservation efforts made possible by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Though they are still classified as “endangered,” these species have turned the trajectory from extinction to recovery, so I wouldn’t say the Act is ineffective, and I certainly wouldn’t go so far as Mr. Henneke does to call it “a terrible approach” to saving species with “an abysmal track record.”

I’m a sixth generation rancher in Brady, Texas. My husband George and I love and care for the land, the livestock, and the wide variety of Texas wildlife that call our ranch home. Read More »

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