Growing Returns

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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Three ways Zinke failed as Interior Secretary. Why the next Secretary will likely fail, too.

This blog was co-authored by David Festa and Dan Grossman.

Two years ago, a colleague of ours penned a blog titled, “How Interior pick can make good on Trump’s promise to honor Theodore Roosevelt.”

Looking back now, it was optimistic for any of us to believe that Ryan Zinke could fulfill the responsibilities of the Interior Secretary, when it’s clear that the Trump administration has no respect for America’s natural resources and cultural heritage.

Here are three reasons why Zinke failed as Interior Secretary, and why we are deeply skeptical that his replacement will succeed, either.   Read More »

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Climate news got you down? Here are 3 bright spots that show promise in building resilience.

The federal government’s National Climate Assessment lays bare the grim future we face if we don’t reign in greenhouse gas emissions and scale up adaptation strategies in a hurry. Lost in most of the media coverage, however, is the fact that industry, government and communities are already coming together to build resilience so that people and wildlife can adapt to a changing climate.

Here are three shining examples. It may surprise you that some of these places are decidedly unblue.  Read More »

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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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