Moore moves to release the hours-old monarch onto the boy’s outstretched finger, but the butterfly, its wings a vivid orange and black, has another idea. It banks away, beginning its new life up in the green shelter of a nearby tree.
Monarchs are in trouble, despite efforts by Moore and countless other volunteers and organizations across
Rapid development and climate change are escalating the rates of species loss, according to a May United Nations report. For monarchs, farming and other human development have eradicated state-size swaths of native milkweed habitat, cutting the butterfly’s numbers by 90% over the past two decades.
With its count falling 99% to the low tens of thousands in the western
Administration officials say the changes, expected to go into effect next month, will reduce regulation while still protecting animals and plants. But conservation advocates and Democratic lawmakers say the overhaul will force more to extinction, delaying and denying protections.
The administration will for the first time reserve the option to estimate and publicize the financial cost of saving a species in advance of any decision on whether to do so. Monarchs compete for habitat with soybean and corn farmers, whose crops are valued in the low tens of billions of dollars annually. For mountain caribou, sage grouse, the
Another coming change will end across-the-board protections for creatures newly listed as threatened. Conservation groups say that will leave them unprotected for months or years, as officials, conservationists and industries and landowners hash out each species’ survival plan, case by case.
The rule also will limit consideration of threats facing a species to the “foreseeable” future, which conservation groups say allows the administration to ignore the growing harm of global warming. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile migration synched to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers. In 2002, a single wet storm followed by a freeze killed an estimated 450 million monarchs in their winter home in
A decision on whether the monarch will be listed as threatened is expected by
In the meantime, volunteers like Moore grow plants to feed and host the monarchs, nurture caterpillars, and tag and count monarchs on the insects’ annual migrations up and down America.
For Moore, a tutor who has turned her 20-by-20-foot yard over to milkweed, fleabane and other butterfly nectar and host plants, the hope is that grass-roots efforts of thousands of volunteers loosely connected in wildlife organizations, schools, and Facebook groups will save the monarch, at least.
“People having an interest in it might reverse it. It’s encouraging,” said Moore, who also raises extra milkweed to give away. If the monarch can’t be saved, she said, “it would be kind of sad. What it would say about what we’re able to do.”
Some animals — like a shy mountain caribou species that went extinct from the wild in the lower 48 states last winter, despite protection under the Endangered Species Act — struggle and disappear out of sight. Monarchs can serve as reminders of the others, says
“One of the reasons I think it’s so important to focus on monarch conservation is monarchs connect people to nature,” Oberhauser said. “They’re beautiful, they’re impressive, people have seen them since we were children.”
“If the changes that humans are causing are leading to the decline of species that are as common as the monarchs, it’s scary,” Oberhauser said. “The environment is changing such a lot that monarchs are declining. And I think that doesn’t bode well for humans.”
For corn and soybean farmer
“Who would design a little creature that depends on one weed? Overwinters in one little spot?” Fredericks asks.
He takes part in federal government programs that pay farmers to seed islands of native wildflowers and grasses on their land. Coming through the corn rows on his 750 acres this spring, Fredericks is thrilled to see the full result: Orange and black wings fluttering among seeded prairie flowers.
“This year, it is just awesome,” He says.
As farmers, however, “we’ve evolved to have clean fields,” and have used tractors, potent weed killers, and weedkiller resistant crops to make them that way, Fredericks said. “And unfortunately it killed the milkweed.”
Butterflies are pretty, he said, but persuading farmers to work around aggressively spreading milkweed will take money. “When it’s made economical sense to do so, it happened right away,” he said.
Should supporters win federal protections for monarchs and their milkweed habitat, “the devil is in the details, isn’t it?” Kavazanjian said. “The wording and the enforcement and you know, I mean, again, if invasive species meets endangered species, then what happens?”
“We’re trying to do what we can,” said
For Oberhauser, the
“What we need instead of pointing fingers is, we need to make up for that,” as with the programs that pull unproductive lands out of farming and into set-aside patches for wildlife, she said.
But for her 14-year-old son, it’s already almost a post-monarch world. Despite the more than a dozen milkweed plants that the family plants in their yard, “we haven’t seen one yet,” she said.