Farm Progress

Annual population study shows need for continued addition of habitat for insect.

February 28, 2017

3 Min Read
MORE HABITAT NEEDED: The Monarch Collaborative urges farmers and others to build on butterfly conservation progress, and support continued habitat improvement and cooperative action. This follows the release of annual population survey results.

Farmers, landowners, conservationists, businesses and citizen groups are making steady progress promoting the conservation of monarch butterflies and expanding habitat. However, the 2016-17 overwintering population estimate recently released by the World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican National Commission of Protected Natural Areas shows an urgent need for expanded implementation of conservation action to improve the monarch’s North American population.

The survey showed overwintering monarch butterflies covered 2.91 hectares of forest in December, compared to 4.01 hectares the previous year and 18 hectares during the 1996 peak — a 27% decline in the number of eastern monarch butterflies migrating to Mexican forests compared to the previous year.

Loss of habitat hurts population
Monarch butterflies face a wide array of challenges, including a loss of habitat and lack of access to milkweed and nectar resources. Monarchs also face threats from weather and climate, predators, pathogens and parasites, and declining winter habitat in Mexico that collectively contribute to the overall population decline.

“Farmers and other agricultural producers are stewards of the land across much of the eastern monarch butterfly’s habitat, placing them in a unique position to support sustainable monarch populations,” says Ethan Mathews, director of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association. “These new population numbers underscore the challenges the eastern monarch butterfly population faces, as well as the unique role agricultural stakeholders can play.”

The population survey results follow on the heels of an agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide farmers and agricultural producers with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act as they implement practices to improve monarch habitat under some 2014 Farm Bill programs. The Monarch Collaborative hailed this agreement and urged farmers, ranchers and landowners across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin to utilize this opportunity.

Responsible stewardship provides habitat
Farmers, agricultural stakeholders, landowners and other citizens in the Monarch Flyway are beginning to make progress toward the current goal of creating or restoring significant acreage of monarch habitat in the United States.

“Farmers and ranchers know from experience that responsible stewardship of the environment and sound business practices are not mutually exclusive,” says Ryan Yates, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Efforts to expand voluntary conservation programs supported through innovative public-private investments will help to accelerate establishment of monarch habitat. “Farmers and ranchers need protection from potential endangered species liability in order to increase monarch habitat. For example, the protection for conservation actions should be extended to include the Conservation Reserve Program,” says Alex Echols of the Sand County Foundation.

Government conducting review
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a review of monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act. The service has until June 2019 to determine whether or not to list the species, which provides farmers and agricultural stakeholders and other private landowners with limited time to implement effective voluntary conservation efforts.

The Monarch Collaborative is a diverse and dedicated group of organizations working to develop collaborative strategies to support a sustainable population of monarch butterflies, while meeting agricultural productivity and habitat conservation goals. The collaborative’s membership includes a diverse and dedicated group of organizations spanning the research community, agricultural production, conservation causes, public agencies and others working to develop solutions to address the challenge. To learn more about Monarch Collaborative, visit

Sources: USDA, Monarch Collaborative

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