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Milkweed Needed for Imperiled Monarch Butterfly

The mid-America monarch migration route in need of more milkweed spans from Texas to North Dakota and east to Ohio.
The mid-America monarch migration route in need of more milkweed spans from Texas to North Dakota and east to Ohio.
May 29, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. — Wildlife experts say the "king" of butterflies could go the way of the passenger pigeon unless people step in to plant more of the insect's only food source, milkweed.

The monarch butterfly population has crashed, according to Naomi Edelson, senior director of wildlife partnerships with the National Wildlife Federation. She said it can only be revived with a conservation strategy that improves its habitat by increasing its food supply.

The eastern monarch population has declined 90 percent in recent decades. And Edelson said she believes we'll miss them when they're gone.

"I know people can see hundreds of them come through their own back yards. And they're at such a low level that if there are some very big, severe storms during the winter, in their wintering grounds in Mexico, we could lose them completely,” Edelson said.

The federation supports the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy that provides a blueprint for reversing the decline by improving habitats in natural areas, on agricultural lands and homeowners' backyards. Public comments on the conservation plan are being accepted through May 31 at

The mid-America monarch migration route includes 16 states from Texas to North Dakota and east to Ohio. Edelson said during that time, milkweed is their only food source.

"We have lost all the little strands of milkweed which usually grow up in the ditches and in between the different crops because we're so good now at producing food,” she said. “And so there's no more room for the milkweed."

Edelson said she worries the decline in monarch butterflies is reminiscent of the era of the passenger pigeon.

"We had millions of passenger pigeons all across the country and we lost it completely; there's no more passenger pigeons,” she said. “And the monarch's a similar species that you could never expect we would not have it."

The passenger pigeon population went from billions in the late 1880s to zero fifty years later due to uncontrolled hunting. In 2014, the monarch butterfly was petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, and a decision on whether listing is warranted is expected in 2019.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE