Monarch Butterflies Need Milkweed

Taken from February 28, 2016 The Sunday Republican

Mexico City by Associated Press

Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, experts said Friday.

The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individual insects.

The number of monarchs making the 3,400 mile migration from the United States and Canada declined steadily in recent years before recovering in 2014.  This winter was even better.

In December 2015 the butterflies covered 10 acres, compared to 2.8 acres in 2014 and a record low in 1.66 acres in 2013.

While that’s positive, the monarchs still face problems: The butterflies covered as much as 44 acres 20 years ago.  “The new is good, but at the same time we shouldn’t let our guard down,” said Omar Vidal, director of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico. “Now more than ever, Mexico, the United States, and Canada should increase their conservation efforts to  protect and restore the habitat of this butterfly along its migratory route.”

The United States is working to reintroduce milkweed, a plant key to the butterflies’ migration, on about 1,160 square miles within five years, both by planting and by designating pesticide-free areas. Milkweed is the plant the butterflies feed and lay their eggs on, but it has been attacked by herbicide use and loss of open land in the United Stats.

Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that in the first year of that effort, the United States had managed to restore about 250,000 acres of milkweed, and raised about $20 million for the program.

“It is time for celebration because we see the beginning of success,” Ashe said.  “But our task now is to continue building on that success.”

The Washington, D.C. based Center for Biological Diversity, which is pushing for endangered species status for the monarchs, noted that even with the rebound, the butterflies are still only at 68 percent of their 22-year average.

“The increase is certainly great news, but the bottom line is that monarchs much reach a much larger population size to be resilient to ever-increasing threats,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.

In Mexico, meanwhile, illegal logging has remained a problem.  It more than tripled in the monarch butterflies’ wintering grounds in 2014, reversing several years of steady improvements. Illegal logging had fallen to almost zero in 2012.

Authorities said the reserve’s buffer area lost more than 22 acres in 2015 due to illegal logging in one area, but said the tree cutting was detected and several arrests were made.


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