Growing Returns

These farms planted wildflowers to attract bugs to control pests. And it’s working.

Last fall, two farms in California’s Sacramento Valley planted a wildflower cover crop mix as part of a commitment to restore habitat within 325 acres of pecan orchards. The farms, Pacific Gold Agriculture and Bypass Farms, are participating in a project called “Orchards Alive” in hopes that wildflowers will attract pollinators and naturally reduce pest pressure.

Orchards Alive came about thanks to a $3 million monarch and pollinator recovery bill (AB 2421) designed to establish habitat restoration projects for important pollinator species facing steep population losses. Read More »

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Monarch butterfly population down 53% from last year. Here’s the swift action we need.

Last week, scientists released results from the latest count of the eastern monarch butterfly population — the main population that migrates east of the Rockies and overwinters in Mexico. The 53% drop from just last year was an unexpected and staggering outcome that left conservationists like me downcast, but ready to act.

While many of us were expecting to see some small decline, this significant drop is especially alarming because it indicates that the monarch population is below the threshold at which scientists predict the migration could collapse. Read More »

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What are cover crops doing on a pecan orchard? Hopefully attracting bugs.

You don’t typically hear farmers saying they want to attract bugs to their farm, but that’s what a unique conservation project in California’s Sacramento Valley is doing – determining whether cover crops can attract more at-risk native pollinators, like monarch butterflies, in addition to insects that serve as pest control, like ladybugs.

The project came about thanks to a $3-million monarch and pollinator recovery bill (AB 2421) designed to establish habitat restoration projects for important pollinator species facing steep population losses. Read More »

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The star power of pollinators on the farm

The famous line, “If you build it, he will come,” voiced by an anonymous actor sets the entire plot of Field of Dreams in motion. Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella may be the star, but the movie depends equally on that unnamed voiceover artist and on the actors playing Kinsella’s late father and former baseball legends, who arrive to play ball on a diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.

This baseball classic shows how leading characters are important, but it is often supporting characters who carry the show. The same is true in nature. Charismatic species get the spotlight, but it’s a biologically diverse ensemble cast that creates a healthy ecosystem.

In the drama to save rapidly declining pollinators, which provide $3 billion of pollination services to U.S. agriculture each year, monarch butterflies are the high-profile star. The species’ population has plummeted 90% over the past two decades, a decline emblematic of the larger challenges that all pollinators face. The monarch’s many fans — drawn in by the butterfly’s beauty and awesome migration — have rallied to save them, and conservation efforts are benefitting other lesser-known, critically important pollinators.

If we had the Oscars for pollinators, monarchs would likely be nominated for the best actor category. The best supporting actor category would be competitive, but these three species, which work alongside the famous butterfly, would be strong contenders. Read More »

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This Midwest hog farmer wants to create a “butterfly effect” to bring back the monarch

Eastern monarch butterfly populations rebounded last year, largely thanks to favorable weather conditions during the butterflies’ 3,000-mile migration. To help make those increases permanent and reduce chances of an endangered species listing, we need to plant 1.5 million more acres of milkweed, native grasses and wildflower habitat on farms and ranches.

Farmers like Tim Richter, who manages a grain and hog operation in Iowa and Missouri, are stepping up provide monarchs with vital breeding and nectaring habitat.

I sat down with him to discuss what inspired him to restore monarch habitat, and to ask him what he wants other farmers to know about pollinator conservation. Read More »

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The monarch ESA listing is delayed 18 months. Here’s what you need to know.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delayed its decision about whether to list the monarch butterfly as endangered or threatened until December 2020 — 18 months later than the original deadline of June 2019.

Because the original deadline resulted from a litigation settlement, this extension had to be approved by federal courts and the other parties to the litigation. While certainty about a regulatory decision of this scope is always beneficial, this mutually agreed upon delay creates an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Here’s what farmers, ranchers and their partners need to know about how the delay will impact monarch conservation efforts. Read More »

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New guide to help landowners restore monarch habitat after western population plummets

Last summer, unlike some of my graduate student peers, I traded in palm trees for almond orchards, with soil instead of sand beneath my toes. I spent the summer counting milkweed stems and sifting through literature from Xerces Society and university scientists, seeking to understand the challenges and opportunities associated with establishing monarch butterfly habitat in California.

As part of my research role with EDF, I’ve been working to address the declining western monarch population by making habitat restoration and creation more accessible and, ultimately, more effective.

The culmination of my research, conducted with ecological consultant Jaymee Marty, is summarized in a new resource now available to working land managers in California, Monarch Butterfly Habitat Creation in California: A Technical Field Guide. Read More »

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Bipartisanship for conservation lives. Can it flourish in the 116th Congress?

Congress just sent a public lands package – appropriately called the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act – to the president. Importantly, the legislation includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a popular federal program that protects our public lands and waters including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and recreation areas.

LWCF also provides critical grants for state and local parks and recreational facilities, and promotes voluntary conservation on private land.

Congressional action on LWCF demonstrates that bipartisanship is still achievable and works well to support conservation today, and with an eye toward the future. (Photo Credit: Mark Fischer)

Reauthorization of LWCF – adopted in the Senate by a vote of 92-8 and in the House of Representatives by a vote of 363-62 – can be attributed to the bipartisan and collaborative efforts of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) of the House Natural Resources Committee, and so many other champions in both chambers. Read More »

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Are monarch populations up or down? Scientist explains conflicting reports

It’s hard to know what to make of the recent monarch butterfly news. On one hand, the western population of monarchs native to California is down 86 percent this year compared to last – reaching a dangerously low threshold that puts them on the brink of extinction. On the other hand, the eastern population that migrates east of the Rockies and overwinters in Mexico is up 144 percent – the highest count since 2006.

With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently weighing the need to list monarch butterflies as threatened or endangered, the stakes are incredibly high to understand what these population trends mean for the iconic species.

So how do scientists explain these apparently conflicting population numbers?

Read More »

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The decline of the monarch butterfly is a natural disaster that requires attention now

Three reasons why this wildlife problem is a human problem – one that we can and must solve, fast.

The monarch butterfly is making national headlines as reporters and commentators are using the dooming western population count to sound the alarm about the loss of the orange and black icon.

But the species’ decline has not been a sudden one. Scientists have been predicting this for years as the monarch has been on a collision course with agricultural productivity and climate change for at least two decades.

(Photo Credit: Lamoustique)

Really, the dangerously low monarch count isn’t unlike a natural disaster in that it is a scary marker of a much larger and more dangerous transformational change.

The biggest difference between the monarch’s decline and natural disasters is that the monarch’s decline is ultimately seen as a wildlife problem, not a human problem – but they are one in the same. Here are three reasons why. Read More »

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