Restoring Natural Habitat for the Monarch Butterfly
Update: Monsanto is collaborating with others to restore critical habitat and support a healthy monarch butterfly population. As part of this effort, we recently announced a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in support of NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund (MBCF). Our $3.6 million donation to the fund will support habitat restoration, education, outreach and milkweed seed production to benefit monarch butterflies. Yesterday, NFWF announced the first round of MBCF grant recipients.
Learn more about Monsanto’s commitment to restore the monarch butterfly population.
Last summer, I was at the Sensory Garden in Shaw Park in St. Louis with my 4-year old granddaughter, Jaidyn. As we walked along the path through the wildflowers, suddenly a butterfly landed on a nearby flower. Jaidyn ran ahead and shouted, “Poppa, look, a monarch butterfly!”
She knows her animals pretty well, but I didn’t expect her to recognize a monarch butterfly. In no time she spotted several monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants. It speaks to the iconic nature of the monarch in North America. There are thousands of species of butterflies, but just about everyone recognizes a monarch instantly.
Less known is the fascinating monarch butterfly migration; it’s an amazing story and journey. You won’t find monarchs in butterfly houses or greenhouses. And the butterfly that Jaidyn and I admired last fall didn’t stay in that garden for long. That’s because monarchs are always on the move, on a one-of-a-kind journey.
Every February and March in Mexico, millions and millions of monarch butterflies begin to migrate into the United States and Canada. The first generation of monarchs will only make it as far as Texas and Oklahoma. Subsequent generations will proceed further into the Midwest, and make their way to the Upper Midwest and Canada, multiplying in numbers as they breed.
And then, in the fall, amazingly the adult monarchs know that, for the species to survive, they must make the 3,000-mile trek back to the Oyamel fir forest in the mountains of central Mexico. Millions of monarchs will cling to the branches and withstand the harsh winter conditions before returning to the same area their great-grandparents gathered the previous year. The monarch butterfly migration has now come full circle only to be repeated the next year.
Fewer monarchs have been completing this journey in recent years. Researchers are looking at a range of factors that are contributing to the fluctuation in monarch populations, but we know that reduction of milkweed habitat is part of the problem.
The declining milkweed is a true dilemma: Weeds compete with crops for water, nutrients and sunlight, and farmers need to control them to grow more food, fiber and fuel for all of us. Best management practices encouraged by weed scientists, regulators and industry target all weeds but milkweed is the only habitat for monarchs to lay their eggs and for caterpillars to feed.
Working together, we can address this challenge and help the monarch population thrive as we produce abundant harvests to provide a balanced meal for everyone. Milkweed gardens like the one in Shaw Park that delighted my granddaughter need to become a priority. Improvement and expansion of sustainable monarch habitat alongside agriculture, along highways and roads, on rights-of-way and other public landscapes could also provide solutions.
Monsanto is supporting monarch research, education and habitat restoration with our initial commitment of more than $4 million over the next three years. We know it will take more than funding, though. We’re also lending our innovative team of scientists, who collaborate with a range of partners to help ensure the monarch butterfly migration doesn’t become a journey of the past.
Anyone with an interest in helping the cause can do so in multiple ways. If you have an interest in gardening, or a willingness to learn, you can plant a butterfly garden. You can make your voice heard by encouraging parks managers and public officials to consider planting milkweed and nectar plants in public areas. You can support research efforts to track the monarchs’ population and migration each year. Or you can contribute to any number of organizations that are driving programs supporting monarch conservation.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provides information and resources for anyone interested in helping monarchs, and the National Wildlife Federation’s Butterfly Heroes campaign allows you to make a pledge and receive a butterfly garden starter kit. I encourage you to visit the websites of other leading organizations that are committed to helping monarchs and other pollinators to thrive, such as Monarch Watch, Monarch Joint Venture, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Xerces Society, Make Way for Monarchs, and many others initiatives dedicated to preserving the monarch butterfly.
If we work together, we can help ensure that monarch butterflies continue their spectacular annual journeys, and that we all can continue to experience moments of joy when we see them along the way.