High Stakes in Declining Monarch Butterfly Populations

As a child, I loved to spend my time chasing the majestic monarch butterflies as they danced around the woods and garden on my parents’ small farm in rural Georgia. Now when I spot the distinctive wings that flutter so swiftly and graciously, I pause to take in the moment, as I know the perils that face these exquisite creatures.

butterfly gardens
Planting flowers with my sister (right) in my parents’ garden in 1990. Photo by Tiffany Woods
Troubling records indicate that monarch populations have plummeted over 90% during the past few decades, mainly due to the decline of milkweed, herbicide and pesticide use, and conversion of forests and grasslands to other uses, like fields, roads, or development. Monarchs serve as indicator species that lets us know when there is something wrong in the environment when their numbers decline, and they also assist plants in their reproduction by pollination along with other wildlife such as bees, bats, and birds. This decline in monarch populations could be an indication of a very visible sign of trouble facing pollinators in general, which is a threat not to take lightly as pollinators play a key role in pollinating 35 % of world crops that we depend on for food.

On Monday the National Wildlife Federation signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a new funding initiative was announced with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as pledging $2 million in immediate funding for on-the-ground projects to conserve monarch populations around the country. Read more on NWF’s initiative.

Monarch butterfly by Lois Settlemeyer
A monarch butterfly drinks nectar from native Joe Pye weed along the Chippewa River in Midland, Michigan. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Lois Settlemeyer.
If we can provide monarchs with healthy and sustainable habitats such as gardens, grasslands and forests, then perhaps we can provide generations to come the chance to know and appreciate this iconic species. According to biologist, Bill Finch, milkweed is able to bloom in Gulf Coastal longleaf ecosystems at the most opportune time during the spring, as monarchs are migrating from Mexico to North America and stop in the piney woods of the Gulf Coast to lay eggs on the milkweed during the spring. In late spring, the caterpillars morph into butterflies, and then fly north to repopulate in the eastern part of the country.

As a staff member at NWF, it is an exciting time to be a part of an organization that is taking such timely and aggressive steps to protect this beautiful species that means so much to me. NWF understands what needs to be done by addressing habitat restoration first and foremost to conserve and protect these and other important pollinator species. When the warmth of spring arrives in the coming months, I will bring milkweed seeds to add to our family’s garden. This is my token of hope and affirmation for the species that we humans so depend on, because now it appears, their survival will depend on us.

Find out 6 Ways to Save Monarchs with NWF!