Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): monarch butterfly

Why two California farms give me hope for the monarch butterfly

A monarch caterpillar eats showy milkweed at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California.

A monarch caterpillar eats showy milkweed at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California.

The western population of monarch butterflies is in steep decline, according to a recent study released by the Xerces Society, having fallen 74 percent in the past two decades, from roughly 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 300,000 butterflies in 2015.

Studies have documented the drop in eastern populations over the past several years, but this is the first time we’ve been able to understand the risks to the western population, which resides west of the Rocky Mountains.

The population is struggling because of development around the forested groves where they spend winters along the California coast and in Mexico, and because of pesticide applications that kill vital milkweed habitat. These threats and the population decline are significant, having the potential to influence a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision in coming years if the situation fails to turn around soon.

I’ve feared for many years that the monarch might reach the point that it will require protections under the Endangered Species Act – a last resort that signals a dire state for the iconic and beloved species. But a recent trip to California gave me great hope that it’s not too late to change the monarch’s trajectory.  Read More »

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Monarch butterflies get help from Texas ranch

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed! growing at Shield Ranch.

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed growing at Shield Ranch.

A few weeks ago, I visited Shield Ranch, a 6,000-acre property devoted to responsible cattle management and wildlife conservation. I made the visit to the ranch – less than 20 miles west of my home in Austin – to test a new tool being designed to more accurately assess habitat for the monarch butterfly.

Standing in a field of wildflowers with a team of scientists, we used the monarch butterfly habitat quantification tool to measure vegetation and determine what monarch habitat was available on the property. We’ve used similar habitat quantification tools for other at-risk wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse, but this was the first time we tested a tool for monarch butterfly habitat.

Read More »

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With help from farmers, the monarch butterfly will not go extinct

Monarch butterfly lands on a flower. The monarch butterfly could face extinction if conservation efforts cannot reverse habitat loss.

The monarch butterfly could face extinction if conservation efforts cannot reverse habitat loss. Credit: Prepare for Docking via photopin (license)

A report released yesterday in the journal Scientific Reports found “substantial probability” that the eastern population of monarch butterfly could be wiped out in a “quasi-extinction” event in the next two decades.

The study attributed the increased likelihood of an extinction event to extreme weather, which has historically posed a threat to monarch populations. But the study also noted that the most recent declines have been primarily caused by the eradication of milkweed from farms in the United States.

Despite the results of this report, I am convinced that we can save the monarch.

That’s because all of the pieces will soon be in place to reverse habitat loss and make recovery a reality. Read More »

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My life’s work: Building strategies for ag and industry to protect wildlife

Could the monarch butterfly be the next passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

Could the monarch butterfly face the same plight of the passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

When I think about what motivates me as a conservationist, I often reflect on the bird species we’ve lost – the Carolina parakeet, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon.

I remember these species when I work to create pathways to prevent extinction for today’s at-risk wildlife – the lesser prairie-chicken, the golden-cheeked warbler and the greater sage-grouse.

But it’s not just the birds that inspire me. It’s also the people.

My role as director of conservation strategy and habitat markets often requires me to cultivate partnerships with ranchers, farmers, oilmen and large multinational corporations. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with this diverse set of stakeholders to find common ground. Sure, we all have different interests driving us, but I am steadfast in my belief that we can protect natural resources, while at the same time enabling the responsible production of food, fuel and fiber. Read More »

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Butterfly numbers may be up, but they still need our help

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the monarch butterfly, along with the manatee, is on a “big rebound.” It’s true that the iconic North American butterfly is in better shape today than this time last year. But it’s too soon to celebrate.

A sensitive species

populationThe population of monarch butterflies has historically had drastic dips and spikes. That’s because the monarch is a sensitive species greatly impacted by extreme weather events.

In January 2002, the species experienced unprecedented and catastrophic mortality due to a rare freeze at its overwintering site in Mexico, killing an estimated 500 million butterflies. That’s more than two times the size of today’s population, even with this year’s boost.

Fortunately, the monarch is as resilient as it is delicate. This year’s bump in number proves that. It also shows that recovery is possible, that conservation efforts can make a difference. Read More »

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Program helps Texas ranchers save endangered bird, but more conservation is needed

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Earlier this month, I helped organize the 2016 Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo Symposium in Austin, Texas. The Symposium was attended by nearly 200 scientists, consultants, academics, regulators and interested citizens from as far away as Wisconsin and southern Mexico – all convening to review and discuss the science of the two species of interest.

Despite a recent petition to the contrary, the science on the golden-cheeked warbler is clear: habitat for the bird continues to disappear and the species warrants its endangered status.

We need more conservation, not less

A petition filed by Texans for Positive Economic Policy claims that there is ample population and habitat for the warbler, and that its status is inhibiting development and thereby the economy. There are two reasons why this claim is unfounded. Read More »

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My quest to balance nature and the agricultural economy

California's Sutter Buttes are the remnants of a volcano that are sometimes called the "smallest mountain range in the world."

California’s Sutter Buttes are the remnants of a volcano that are sometimes called the “smallest mountain range in the world.”

On a clear day I can see the Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world, from my office in Sacramento. It’s a landscape that inspires me.

Although the Sacramento Valley is not without its problems, when I look out my office window, explore the local outdoors with my kids, or catch the woodsy whiff of a pencil made from California incense cedar (yes, I collect those), what I sense in those sights, sounds and smells is balance.

Striking the right balance in our working landscapes

The Sacramento Valley is a real working landscape. I use that term a lot: “working landscape.” By that I mean a place where natural resources are used to provide economic benefit – “working” to support jobs, industries and economies, both local and of scale – in a way that strikes a balance between maximizing profits and sustaining the natural resources, or the “landscape.”

Striking that balance between economic output and environmental protection has been a pillar of my work at EDF. I’ve long believed that if we can find and replicate this delicate mix everywhere, we’d be in much better shape. Read More »

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From California to Idaho: Protecting rural pit stops on the monarch butterfly’s great migration

The eastern population of monarch butterflies overwinter in the forests of central Mexico, with the most prominent migration path following Interstate 35 from Amarillo Texas to Duluth Minnesota. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The eastern population of monarch butterflies overwinters in the forests of central Mexico, with the most prominent migration path following Interstate 35 from Amarillo Texas to Duluth Minnesota. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

As a kid growing up in northern California, I found myself migrating to the beaches and boardwalk of Santa Cruz (along with tens of thousands of other land-locked youth) to escape the sweltering inland heat each summer.

Now, as an adult more than a decade into my conservation career, I’ve come to learn that the monarch butterfly, one of America’s most well-known and beloved insects, is drawn to the same place, only during winter.

The western population of monarch butterflies spends their winters along the California coast, seeking the temperate climate and coastal forests the area offers. This overwintering habitat extends as far North as the San Francisco Bay Area and as far South as San Diego along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the highest concentrations occur in a handful of sites in and around Santa Cruz.

A few weeks ago, I paid a visit to my old summer stomping grounds to see this iconic North American butterfly.

First stop: Natural Bridges State Park Read More »

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How 2015 set the table for major agricultural and environmental success in 2016

agricultureIn 2015, U.S. agriculture proved to be a willing and powerful partner in the path to sustainability. We’ve seen farmers, ranchers and food companies make major headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving soil health, restoring habitat for at-risk wildlife and protecting freshwater supplies.

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

  • Approval of the first carbon offset protocol for crops in a cap-and-trade market (for U.S. rice growers), followed by approval of a grasslands protocol and a huge investment from USDA to develop a fertilizer protocol. These protocols reward farmers for conservation measures that reduce emissions and offer businesses new opportunities to offset the environmental impacts from their operations.
  • Launch of the innovative SUSTAIN platform throughout the United Suppliers agricultural retailer network. SUSTAIN, developed in coordination with EDF, trains ag retailers in best practices for sustainable farming and aims to enroll 10 million acres in the program by 2020. So far, over 300 sales representatives in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio have attended training. And food companies interested in making SUSTAIN a feature of their sustainable sourcing work include Campbell’s, Unilever, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Smithfield.
  • A “not warranted” listing decision for sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, due in large part to ranchers’ commitments to develop and implement conservation solutions for the bird. Habitat exchanges – a solution developed by EDF and partners in agriculture and industry – are now available in Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming for landowners to earn new revenue for protecting and enhancing greater sage-grouse habitat.
  • Release of Colorado’s first-ever water plan to ensure the health and vitality of the state’s streams, rivers, communities and wildlife – without harming farmers. The plan addresses development of financial mechanisms to incentivize participation in alternative water transfer mechanisms and subsidize agricultural water system optimization. This innovative water planning can now be a model for other water-stressed communities.

So what lies ahead for 2016? We asked our experts to share their thoughts and wishes for the New Year. Read More »

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Ranchers and conservationists step up to avert listing of sage-grouse

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

The decision whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act was one of the biggest listing decisions of our time.

Thanks to unprecedented public-private partnerships among ranchers, energy developers, conservationists and states, we now have the groundwork to guide future management of our nation’s wildlife and working landscapes.

The “not warranted” decision sends a strong signal that investments in conservation are making a difference, providing the catalyst for a new approaches and a different kind of politics.

Read More »

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