In the last 20 years, the population of North American monarch butterﬂies (Danaus plexippus) has declined by 90 percent. This has led to the creation of the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV), a partnership between federal and state agencies, non-governmental agencies, and academic programs working together to protect monarchs and their migration.
Partnering throughout the United States, MJV is working to “conserve and protect monarch populations and their migratory phenomena by implementing science- based habitat conservation and restoration measures in collaboration with multiple stakeholders,” according to its website.
“Today, monarchs in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable due to reduced abundance of milkweed and nectar plants in the landscape, and diminishing overwintering habitat in California. MJV partners are engaged in work focused on improving habitat availability and quality for eastern and western monarch populations.”
Key MJV Projects
- Habitat Conservation and Enhancement
- Milkweed Conservation
- Research and Monitoring
- Education and Outreach
For each of these projects, communications and outreach are playing important roles in reaching educators, land managers, decision-makers and citizen volunteers to engage about monarchs, their migration and ways to monitor and protect them.
Communications with Goals
An aggressive outreach program is working hard to:
- Describe the cause and effect of the situation – Shifting land management practices have led to habitat decline estimated at more than 165 million acres, an area about the size of Texas, according to The Xerces Society.
- Convey a sense of urgency – A 90 percent decline in monarch population in 20 years.
- Convince citizens to act – The importance of planting regionally speciﬁc milkweed for Milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, and monarch butterﬂies need milkweed to lay eggs.
MonarchWatch.org offers a highly publicized online milkweed market and directory of milkweed vendors to help citizens ﬁnd native milkweed seeds and plants for their region. The Xerces Society also launched a Milkweed Seed Finder database to make locating regional-speciﬁc plants easier to ﬁnd.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is implementing a multi- faceted communications plan that features ways for people to:
- Be Informed: Articles about the monarch decline in NWF’s magazine and website.
- Identify Monarchs: A quiz for the public—“Can You Tell Monarchs from Their Look-Alikes?”
- Understand the Life Cycle: An article that visually shows the monarch’s lifecycle.
- Take Action: A way for people to take political action by sending a message to protect native milkweeds for monarchs.
- Create Habitats: How-to information on ﬁnding and choosing native milkweeds for monarchs.
- Take the Pledge: Become a “Butterﬂy Hero” by planting a garden for monarchs.
According to an ActionSprout.com interview with NWF’s Community Manager Dani Tinker, “Quality content and strong visuals are critical to success,” says Tinker. “We developed content that is relevant and useful. We also found strong visuals to inspire folks to protect the monarch butterﬂy. As a result, our posts were shared far and wide.”
Not without Controversy
In August 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety as co-lead petitioners joined by the Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower ﬁled a legal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterﬂies.
“The butterﬂy’s dramatic decline is being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born,” writes the Xerces Society. “The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean ﬁelds.”
The Iowa Farm Bureau does not agree. Rick Robinson, environmental policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau, told the Des Moines Register on Aug. 29, 2014 the study that blamed herbicide use was faulty because there was no control portion, so other factors in crop production could be causing the habitat decline. “The ecology of the system is too complex to blame Roundup for the decline of milkweed or monarchs,” he says.
In May 2015, Monsanto pledged to provide $4 million to the monarch conservation effort, reports the Des Moines Register.
As they navigate their way through these monarch restoration efforts, ﬁsh and wildlife managers will need to focus on their communications goals and their organizations’ role in advocacy on this matter.
Members of Monarch Joint Venture
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Survey Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service
Natural Resources Conservation Service Iowa Department of Natural Resources Cibolo Nature Center
Cincinnati Nature Center Green Schools Alliance Journey North
Lady Bird Johnson Wildﬂower Center Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Monarch Alert
Monarch Butterﬂy Fund Monarch Health
University of Minnesota Monarch Lab Monarch Watch, University of Kansas National Wildlife Federation
North American Butterﬂy Association Paciﬁc Grove Museum of Natural History Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Pollinator Partnership
Southwest Monarch Study Tallgrass Prairie Center
Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation