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Urgent Action Needed for Monarch Conservation Amidst Declining Winter Count

Urgent Action Needed for Monarch Conservation Amidst Declining Winter Count

By Andi Anderson

The recent release of the 2023-2024 overwintering monarch population report brings alarming news – adult monarch butterflies covered approximately 2.2 acres of forest canopy in Mexico, a significant decrease from the previous year. This decline, attributed to various factors including habitat loss, degradation, and extreme weather events, underscores the urgent need for robust conservation efforts to safeguard monarch populations.

Since the 1990s, forest canopy surveys have provided vital data on the status and trends of the North American eastern monarch population. Scientists emphasize the importance of maintaining a long-term average of 15 acres of occupied forest canopy to sustain these populations. However, ongoing challenges such as loss of breeding habitat in the United States and Canada, forest degradation in Mexico, and climate-related disruptions have hindered conservation efforts.

Chip Taylor, founding director of Monarch Watch, highlights the impact of a drought in the southern U.S. during the 2023 fall migration, which likely exacerbated the challenges faced by monarchs. In response, collaborative initiatives such as the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium play a pivotal role in addressing these pressing concerns.

The consortium, comprising 50 organizations ranging from agricultural and conservation associations to federal agencies, focuses on implementing voluntary conservation efforts based on scientific research. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy guides these efforts, emphasizing habitat improvements in rural landscapes that complement agricultural production.

Despite the ongoing threat to monarch populations, there is hope. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is re-evaluating the monarch's status under the Endangered Species Act, with a decision expected in September 2024. In the meantime, the FWS recommends continued implementation of voluntary conservation efforts within the upper Midwest.

Individuals can also contribute to monarch conservation by planting milkweed and other flowering plants in their gardens and yards. Consortium resources, including the Habitat How-To webpage and free publications, offer practical guidance for habitat establishment.

Collaborative research efforts, led by institutions like Iowa State University, are crucial in guiding conservation strategies and improving our understanding of monarch habitat needs. With effective partnerships and science-based approaches, the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium remains committed to addressing the challenges facing monarch populations.

Urgent action is needed to mitigate the threats facing monarch butterflies. Through collaborative conservation efforts and individual contributions, we can work towards ensuring a brighter future for these iconic insects and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Photo Credit: istock-herreid

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