Monarchs: A Global Communications Effort

Photo by Karen Oberhausen, University of Minnesota (Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)

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

Photo Lisa Cox/USFWS Headquarters

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

 

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