Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): monarch butterfly

What we’ve learned from 50 years of wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation practices are helping protect our nation's treasured emblem: the bald eagle

Photo: © Holger Ehlers

When the first endangered species list was created 50 years ago, it started out with 78 animals. The grizzly bear and bald eagle were among American icons that made that first list.

Today, it counts 1,400 animals and 900 plants – an expansion that reflects more petitions for listings over time, but also the fact that threats to habitats and ecosystems have become more widespread and complex.

In the early days of the Endangered Species Act, we could more easily identify the threat and go straight to the source. When DDT was thinning egg shells, killing embryos and endangering multiple bird species, we worked to curb applications of the harmful pesticide. After a federal ban against DDT, the problem was solved.

Today, threats are more likely to come from broad landscape changes that occur when growing populations push housing and commercial developments outward, energy development and large-scale farming fragment and encroach on habitats, and climate change-related droughts and wildfires degrade entire ecosystems. Read More »

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To help the environment, we must first help people

Author Audrey Archer explores her natural surroundings and assesses need for conservation practices

Now living in Austin, Texas where diverse wildlands are numerous and easily accessible, Audrey takes any opportunity she can get to put on her hiking boots and explore her natural surroundings. She also volunteers with the City of Austin to give guided hikes on preserves. Credit: Rob Binder

I grew up in the high and dry panhandle plains of Texas, where trees are scarce, wind is always blowing, and the smell of feedlots lingers in the air. Needless to say, I was not overly inspired by my surroundings – at least not at the time I lived there.

Had I not traveled with my family growing up, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Throughout these travels, I became enraptured by the biodiversity and lushness of other ecosystems and felt compelled to learn as much as I could about them.

But the stark contrast between some of the natural ecosystems and working landscapes I was exposed to led me to develop a pretty pessimistic view of humans’ impact on the environment. Surely, there had to be a better way of balancing human needs for things like food, water and shelter with nature’s needs.

Determined to tackle this problem, I got my Master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and took a job at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where I had heard that scientists and economists were developing incentive programs for landowners to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore habitat for at-risk wildlife.

Little did I know my worldview was about to be turned upside down.

Putting people first Read More »

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Let’s make ESA listings extinct, not wildlife

Prairie-chicken

The listing process for the lesser prairie-chicken was tumultuous, with a 2016 ruling that stripped the bird of its previous federal protections and sparked questions about ESA implementation, in addition to what moral obligation humans have to protect wildlife. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Since the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing two weeks ago to discuss the “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” a new public debate over the act’s effectiveness has begun, even if the arguments on each side haven’t changed much.

On one hand, reform proponents point to the fact that only 47 of 1,652 species have been removed from the Endangered Species List since 1973. On the other, the act’s defenders note that nearly every species on the list has been saved from extinction.

Yet those may be the wrong metrics. Instead, we may want to ask why those species end up on the list in the first place, and whether we are taking common-sense approaches to wildlife conservation before they do. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

The private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlifeBy this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Three threats to the monarch butterfly’s winter habitat and what we can do about it

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree.

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree. Photo credit: Pablo Leautaud (license)

Just as some people travel great distances to spend the holiday season with family and friends, monarch butterflies, too, make a long journey to spend the winter gathered together in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico.

The eastern population passes through Oklahoma and Texas on its annual migration south, stopping periodically to fuel up on nectar, ultimately reaching their destination in the mountains of central Mexico.

Unfortunately, the monarch’s winter home is under stress, which has contributed to a 90-percent decline in the species’ population over the last two decades. Read More »

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Ranchlands: An untapped reservoir of monarch butterfly habitat

The monarch migration path through central Texas is often referred to as the "Texas Funnel." Source: Journey North

The monarch migration path through central Texas is often referred to as the “Texas Funnel.” Source: Journey North

As monarch butterflies have returned to Texas on their fall migration south, so have my colleagues and I to Shield Ranch for another round of field testing for the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, a new conservation program we expect to launch in key states in 2017.

Texas offers a lot of potential habitat for monarchs, being a critical layover on the species’ annual migrations north and south, and having a number of landowners willing and eager to find a solution for the iconic butterfly’s decline.

During our visit to Shield Ranch, we saw dozens of monarchs and other butterflies, as an unusually high amount of rain in August sparked a profusion of fall wildflowers in central Texas. With targeted conservation funding through the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, we can make rapid progress on the ground. Read More »

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California’s new law means more bang for every buck invested in wildlife

The Swainson's hawk was listed as a threatened species in California in 1983 due to loss of habitat and decreased numbers across the state.

The Swainson’s hawk is one of the at-risk species that AB 2087 benefits.

Prudent investors know to keep a few key things in mind. They anticipate the timing of spending priorities, like retirement, and evaluate investment risk accordingly. They might spread resources across funds to meet different objectives. And of course, they look to maximize their return on investment.

Why shouldn’t these same principles apply to investments in our natural resources?

Thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, these principles will now apply to regional conservation investment strategies for wildlife and other resource management activities in California.

AB 2087: A new approach to conservation planning and mitigation

Assembly Bill (AB) 2087 (Levine), will establish voluntary, non-regulatory strategies to help conservationists, local agencies and the state apply core investment principles when planning conservation or mitigation projects.

This legislation comes at a critical time. Expanding development in California has supported a growth in food production, flood protection, transportation and housing, but it has also resulted in various impacts on the environment. The loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat, in particular, has created a need for the state to restore and maintain at least 600,000 acres for multiple at-risk species in the coming decades. Read More »

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As winter approaches, monarch caterpillars fuel up on a Minnesota farm

Kristin Duncanson shows me monarch caterpillar we found on her farm. “Everyone has a monarch story," she said.

Kristin Duncanson holds a monarch caterpillar we found on her farm. “Everyone has a monarch story,” she said.

Duncanson Growers is a family farm located in the heart of southern Minnesota. Owners Kristin and Pat Duncanson produce pork and grow corn, soybeans and vegetable peas on the farm, with a commitment to sustainable practices that improve the quality of their land. But it’s not just about environmental sustainability.

“We also need to maintain and increase our productivity to be economically sustainable,” Kristin said.

The Duncanson family has been committed to sustainability not only through their own farming operations, but also through outreach and education efforts. I recently paid a visit to the family’s farm, where just the night before they had hosted 30 college students for dinner, recognizing the importance of communicating their sustainability practices to others.

In addition to their current practices, which include improving data collection to increase fertilizer efficiency, reducing tillage where possible and rotating crops, the Duncansons have also maintained some very high quality habitat for monarch caterpillars and butterflies. Read More »

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What would it take for a Nebraska corn farmer to grow milkweed for monarch butterflies?

EDF is working to develop the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange to engage the agricultural community in the fight against extinction.

EDF is working to develop the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange to engage the agricultural community in the fight against extinction.

Virtually every farmer and rancher in America has room for conservation on their land. But deciding whether or not to enroll acres in a conservation program requires just as much business sense as deciding which crops to grow on other acres. It’s a matter of cost and return on investment.

My team and I traveled to Nebraska earlier this month to meet with a few corn and soybean farmers to get a sense of what the costs and benefits might be of dedicating some acres – namely marginal lands with low crop productivity, as well as roadsides and field edges – to growing milkweed habitat for the monarch butterfly. What we found was that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Read More »

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Birds, snakes and butterflies: Farming for more than crops and cash

Davis Ranch manager John Brennan pointed out a hundred year-old valley oak. Resting in the highest branches was a large nest about two feet wide, where a pair of hawks were nesting. As we dispersed about the ranch, one of the hawks greeted us by spreading its wings and soaring off into the blue sky.

A pair of Swainson’s hawk nest in a 100-year-old valley oak tree at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California. (Credit: Emily James)

The Golden State is well known for its robust and diverse agricultural output, even during times of drought. In 2014, California’s farms, ranches and nurseries turned out $54 billion worth of everything from oranges to rice, and milk to nuts.

Our farms and ranches are less renowned for the rich wildlife habitat they also provide, in some cases for threatened species like the Swainson’s hawk and giant garter snake, which have long struggled with the disappearance of their historic habitat in open grasslands and tule marshes.

The Swainson’s hawk population in California used to be close to 17,000 mating pairs. Today, that number is closer to 2,000. And the giant garter snake has faced the loss of 95 percent of its historic Central Valley wetland habitat. In both cases, landscape conversion and fragmentation, in addition to land management practices such as rodent control, have steadily worn away the suitable habitat for these species.

Fortunately, many species are adapting to these landscape changes and, with wildlife-friendly practices, are able to thrive on productive California farms and ranches. Farms like Davis Ranch. Read More »

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