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Monarch butterflies need help

The migration of North America’s monarch butterflies is one of the natural world’s most epic journeys.

Weighing only about as much as a paper clip, they fly up to 3,000 miles from their summer homes in America’s backyards and grasslands to wintering grounds in Mexico’s mountain forests.

But in recent years, the monarch butterfly populations so many of us have grown to love have dwindled alarmingly. This decline threatens to deprive future generations of the wonder and beauty of the monarch – and is an ominous sign of the worsening health of our continent’s natural ecosystems.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Federation are joining forces to take action.

As recently as 1996, the estimated monarch population wintering in Mexico was more than one billion butterflies, turning forests into seas of orange and black. Last year, however, the wintering population numbered only about 56 million butterflies, gathered on fewer than three acres of forest.

Monarch butterflies, as well as other butterfly species, bees, birds and bats help move pollen from one plant to another, fertilizing flowers and making it possible for plants to produce seeds, berries, fruits and nuts that feed people and wildlife. More than a third of the food that we eat requires pollinators to grow. Yet like the monarch, many of these pollinators are declining, with habitat loss, pesticides and climate change all contributing to their struggles.

We need to know more about exactly why monarch butterflies are disappearing. But we don’t need to wait to take the actions that scientists tell us are necessary to redirect the monarch’s future skyward.

To save monarchs, we all need to take action today through a comprehensive, collaborative approach.

Monarchs need Americans to make their homes, businesses, schools and community spaces more wildlife-friendly. The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program encourages responsible gardening that helps pollinators and other wildlife thrive, encouraging planting with native species such as milkweeds and other nectar plants and encouraging responsible pesticide use.

With nearly 200,000 locations and growing, Certified Wildlife Habitats and Community Wildlife Habitats recognize individual and group commitment to providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife that provides food, water, cover and places to raise young in yards, schools, businesses, faith-based organizations, campuses, parks, farms and other community-based landscapes.

Monarchs need the help of the federal government and partners at the state and local level.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will make key investments in monarch conservation totaling more than $3.2 million this year alone. Working with partners, we will restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs on public lands, along highway rights-of-way and on other public and private lands this year, while also supporting more than 750 schoolyard habitat projects and pollinator gardens nationwide.

And monarchs need the agricultural community and other large landowners to continue expanding their role as partners in re-establishing monarch habitat.

The federation and Fish and Wildlife will also increase efforts to protect and plant milkweed and native grasses on public lands, along highways and in other public spaces. We will work with farmers to improve habitat for monarchs, especially on the 26 million acres of land currently enrolled in the Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, of which most are concentrated down the central U.S. through the primary breeding and migratory corridor for monarchs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Federation are cementing our partnership by signing a partnership agreement that provides a framework for cooperation in restoring and conserving populations of the monarch butterfly, other pollinator species and the native plants and habitat upon which they depend. Both are also part of the Monarch Joint Venture, a broad coalition working to conserve and protect monarch populations by implementing science-based habitat conservation and restoration measures.

The decline of monarchs has continued in part because, until now, saving them has been viewed as someone else’s job. With this partnership, we’re declaring that era over. It’s time for all of us to work together to ensure that future generations of Americans have the chance to enjoy this iconic butterfly.