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Efforts being made to preserve western monarch into the future


PINGREE — This summer, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the monarch butterfly an endangered species.

Scientists are concerned the extinction of the migratory monarch could wreak havoc on future ecology in Idaho and around the world.

Without pollinators, the way our crops are grown would change drastically. It would also hurt other native species explains Sanford Eigenbrode, an entomologist and professor at the University of Idaho Ag Extension.

“Our plant communities are dependent on our pollinators,” he said. “The collapse of the pollinator communities would not be good for native plants that depend on pollinators or any other species that utilize those native plants as habitats. It would be a bad deal. The landscape would be transformed.”

Monarch butterflies are among the most notable, and recognizable, pollinators in our state. While huge change is unlikely to occur overnight, the loss of monarchs would disrupt the ecosystem at large.

However, Karen Reed, owner of the Butterfly Haven in Pingree, says western monarchs are not as at risk as they may seem.

“Some areas have declined, but some areas have increased,” she said. “The other thing, there are monarchs in every country of the world, so you’re not going to have them go extinct.”

Reed tells there have not been any changes at the Butterfly Haven as it pertains to caring for and showing their monarchs. Reed credits several researchers for that decision, including Andy Davis, who authored a study out of the University of Georgia.

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That study was published in Global Change Biology. The study found while overwintering monarch numbers were falling, breeding in the summer months increased the overall monarch population by 1.36% per year. Davis cautions the increase in summer breeding does not mean humans can afford to become lax when it comes to the preservation of the species. The monarch overwintering decline is attributed to deforestation, insecticides and climate change — all things people are in control of.

As it stands now, there are no penalties for disturbing monarchs or their habitats in Idaho. In December 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the monarch a “candidate” species, meaning there is enough evidence to say they are endangered, but they are not as high a priority listing as some other endangered species.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t label them as officially endangered, entomologists and biologists in our state are looking to the future to ensure we never have to find out what it would be like to live in a world without monarchs.

“There are different ways to imagine how devastating that would be economically, aesthetically and environmentally for our future, “ said Eigenbrode.

The Xerces Society, a national society that focuses on invertebrate conservation, provides ways for private gardens to become havens for butterflies. They have built an online milkweed seed finder that gardeners can use to find milkweed native to their state. Milkweed not only feeds monarch butterflies, but it also serves as the only place monarchs will lay their eggs.

The U.S. Wildlife Service has also stepped in to mitigate the demise of monarchs. They granted Idaho Fish and Game money to fund several projects to restore and preserve migration routes for the western monarchs through Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act. They have even funded an online map where the public can track the milkweed habitats of the western monarchs.

Eigenbrode says it really comes down to one question.

“How do we value these things as a society, and are we sufficiently motivated to make the steps to keep our species that we share the environment with as healthy as possible?”

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