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Conservation Union Places Western Monarch Butterflies on Threatened List

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Thursday, August 4, 2022   

The iconic orange and black migratory monarch butterfly has just made the Red List of Threatened Species, designated by the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

The insect's western population in Utah, California and surrounding states has dropped 95% from the 1980s. The numbers ticked up a bit last year but remain extremely low.

Rebecca Quiñonez-Piñón, chief monarch recovery strategist for the National Wildlife Federation, said part of the problem is climate change, which is throwing off the bloom times of the insect's favorite food: native milkweed.

"Since last year, we noticed that milkweeds were not blooming when the monarchs were already migrating," Quiñonez-Piñón observed. "They couldn't find enough milkweed to lay their eggs during the spring."

The ongoing destruction or degradation of habitat in Utah and other states is a huge problem for the migratory monarch butterfly. In 2010, observers in Utah counted more than 200,000 of the bright orange insects along their western migration route. But in recent years, the the count dropped to only 30,000.

Scientists believe the decline of the monarch population, which migrates though Utah on the way to its winter home in Mexico, is tied to the state's persistent drought conditions.

Amanda Barth, rare insect conservation project leader at Utah State University, said Utah gardeners and landowners should make sure there is an ample supply of healthy and growing milkweed plants, which grow naturally but also are available at many plant nurseries.

"Utah plays a role in their summer breeding," Barth explained. "This is an opportunity for the population to get really, really big because one individual female can lay a couple hundred eggs."

Advocates are pressing for Congress to pass the Monarch Action, Recovery and Conservation of Habitat Act, which would establish a rescue fund to implement the western monarch conservation strategy. They also support the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, which would dedicate almost $1.4 billion to efforts to save wildlife species at risk.

Disclosure: The National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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