Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): conservation

Unlikely allies are crowdsourcing funding and habitat to save the monarch butterfly

The monarch butterfly has a new chance at recovery, thanks to the launch of the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange and inspiring commitments from early participants.

The Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange is an innovative market-based program dedicated to restoring and conserving high-quality monarch habitat on America's private working lands. It’s been dubbed an ‘Airbnb for butterflies’ because it’s the only program of its kind that can open the vast untapped potential of large-scale farms and ranches to make habitat available for monarchs at an unprecedented scale and pace.

Studies estimate that the monarch’s population has declined by 95 percent since the 1980s, and the butterfly faces a June 2019 deadline for an Endangered Species Act listing decision.

To change the monarch’s trajectory and avoid the need for restrictive regulations that often accompany a listing, we need to restore millions of acres of native milkweed and wildflowers across the butterfly’s vast migration route, fast.

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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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New online hub pairs landowners with conservation investors

Assessing habitat for songbirds at a ranch in the Central Valley.

The drive through the Central Valley’s mosaic of agricultural land, water infrastructure, riparian zones and floodplains has become a familiar one for me and my colleagues. We meet frequently with landowners who are creating, restoring and protecting habitat for wildlife on these working lands.

At each farm and ranch we visit, I am inspired by the landowners who are stepping up to do what they can for the at-risk species that are a part of the Central Valley’s ecology and history.

Whether they are managing flooded fields for Chinook salmon and giant garter snakes, planting trees for Swainson’s hawks and riparian songbirds to nest, or allowing native milkweed and wildflowers to grow for monarch butterflies to breed and feed, these landowners are showcasing conservation innovations that honor and sustain the region’s natural heritage. Read More »

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The wild turkey may be America’s greatest wildlife conservation success story

Three male wild American turkeys displaying full plumage. The turkey’s bald head can change color in seconds with excitement or emotion. The birds’ heads can be red, pink, white or blue. [Photo credit: Larry Smith2010]

When most Americans think about great wildlife success stories, they think about the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, or possibly the recent news of sea turtle recovery.

What many people forget, or perhaps never knew, is that America’s wild turkey population was once estimated to be approximately 30,000 – a number comparable to today’s estimates for polar bears worldwide.

Thankfully for us (and the gobblers), American wild turkeys now number close to seven million.

So how did the turkey bounce back? The answer lies in what some consider America’s greatest wildlife conservation success story. Read More »

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Why I have more hope than ever for the monarch’s recovery

A monarch butterfly nectars on an eryngo plant at Wagley Ranch on October 11. Read more about the monarch and explore David's notes from the field here.

I recently returned to Wagley Ranch near Mineral Wells, Texas to work with some of the very first landowners participating in the emerging Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange.

The visit was the last on my fall field testing tour of the state, during which I visited five Texas ranchers in just six weeks. It was great to end on a high note at Wagley Ranch, where we had the chance to see southward migrating monarchs. We even saw one monarch feeding on an eryngo plant.

It was a wonderful reminder of why our work with these ranchers is so important, because the habitat they are restoring and enhancing is providing a new home to monarchs. Each acre of healthy habitat restored will support 70 butterflies on their migration to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

So how do we bring these activities to scale in time to save the monarch from extinction? With the right tools, the right practices, and the right people. Read More »

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The secret survival of the “masked bandit” in the vanishing prairie

The black-footed ferret is known for its bandit-like mask of dark fur around its eyes. (Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie)

The black-footed ferret, nicknamed the "masked bandit" for its racoon-like markings, is one of the most endangered mammals in North America – so scarce it was once thought to be extinct.

The last of the wild population of black-footed ferrets was thought to have died in 1974 in South Dakota, and the last ferret of the captive breeding program died in 1979.

Somehow, though, a number of ferrets were secretly surviving near the small town of Meeteetse, Wyoming.

In 1981, a cattle dog named Shep brought a dead ferret home to his owners. The ranchers took the ferret to a local taxidermist, who identified it as the once “extinct” black-footed ferret.

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Once a pesky plant for farmers, this weed presents a new opportunity

Although milkweed contains toxins, it rarely poses any significant threat to people or animals. Grazing livestock generally avoid milkweeds when sufficient forage is available. (Photo credit: E. Dronkert)

A recent article called milkweed a “yield-robbing weed” for farmers.

Milkweed has a reputation for encroaching on cropland where it can compete with crops for soil and light. The plant can also create a nuisance on ranchlands, as cattle can be poisoned when poor foraging conditions lead hungry cows to milkweed-concentrated areas as a last resort.

This is why milkweed is difficult to find on most farms and ranches today. Along with climate change, it’s also a key reason why the beloved monarch butterfly population has declined by more than 90 percent in the last two decades.

The importance of milkweed

Milkweed is essential for monarchs, since butterflies need the plant to lay their eggs, and caterpillars exclusively feed on the milky sap-filled plant. It’s what makes monarchs poisonous to predators.

Increased herbicide application across the agricultural landscape, as well as mowing in roadside ditches and marginal areas, is eradicating milkweed from rural areas in the Corn Belt and other key regions of the monarch’s migration route.

In order to turn things around for the monarch, we need to change the incentive for landowners from spraying and mowing to protecting and restoring this vital habitat. Read More »

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How an innovative corn supply chain model can empower companies to help farmers

Grain elevator. Credit: Flickr user Wilson Hui

A new study out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that trying to make supply chains more sustainable is not for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to food – and corn in particular.

Companies are keenly aware that consumers care about where their ingredients come from and how they were grown, and that improving efficiencies along the supply chain can be good for business. But the raw ingredients at the end of those chains are typically produced by a vast network of farmers who bring their corn to regional grain elevators and then sell their crops to grain traders. This is just the start of a lengthy and complicated process that can be challenging for food companies to disentangle and understand, let alone influence to become more sustainable.

That’s why the new study, which focuses on a corn supply chain model developed by the University of Minnesota’s Northstar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NiSE), can be an important tool for empowering food companies with information that can help them tackle the tough job of supply chain sustainability.  Read More »

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How the fastest American raptor nearly nosedived into extinction

“Peregrine” comes from the Latin word for traveler, an apt name for this raptor species. Peregrine falcons are limited only by extreme heat, extreme cold, or exceptionally high elevations. (Photo credit: Beth Fishkind)

The peregrine falcon is renowned for its ability to reach diving speeds up to 200 mph. It’s also known for having one of the longest migrations in North America, reaching up to 15,000 miles.

Peregrine falcons are one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. This extensive range is what made the American peregrine’s dive into near-extinction so worrying.

The peregrine’s swift descent

Historically, there were estimated to be approximately 4,000 breeding pairs of peregrines in the United States. Despite its eminent speed and strength, the population reached alarmingly low numbers in the 1970s when the bird completely disappeared from the eastern U.S. and only 300 breeding pairs remained throughout the rest of the country. Read More »

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A bird has united thousands. It will not divide us.

An icon of the sagebrush sea, the greater sage-grouse is a sight to behold. Males often gather in large numbers to woo females and strut with chests puffed and spiky tails fanned. (Photo credit: Tatiana Gettelman)

It was a sunny, cool morning – a typical September day in Colorado. I pulled up to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and walked towards a stage where the state flags for Colorado, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming waved in the wind alongside the American flag.

It was a good morning. Then-Secretary of the Interior Department, Sally Jewell, had announced earlier that morning that the greater sage-grouse – a bird with habitat spanning parts of 11 western states – was “not warranted” for listing under the Endangered Species Act, thanks to one of the largest collaborative conservation efforts in America’s history.

A success story in the sagebrush sea

Sixteen million sage-grouse once roamed the American West. The Plain Indian tribes lived among the birds, hunting them for food and mimicking the males in their ceremonial dances. Meriwether Lewis spotted them “in great abundance” in 1805 during his expedition with William Clark, providing the first written account of the species.

As of 2010, there were approximately 200,000 to 500,000 birds remaining.

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