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Unprecedented agreement to protect monarch butterflies

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A new public-private partnership between 45 companies and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will be a huge boost in curbing the loss of monarch butterfly habitat in North America.

The phenomenon of animal migration

When we talk about animal migration, we instantly think of birds (swallow, crane…), wildebeest in Africa or salmon in the Pacific. But, the fantastic flight of thousands of monarch butterflies is certainly one of the most incredible attractions that nature offers us to observe.

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However, development in recent decades along their migration corridors has hampered the ability of these fragile creatures to make their journey from Canada to Mexico. Recently, the FWS in partnership with the University of Illinois-Chicago has created a habitat protection program along vital migration corridors for charismatic insects, which leave their summer breeding grounds in the northwestern United States and Canada and travel to central Mexico before resting on mountain peaks and summits.

Preventive action

Participants in this program, consisting of landowners, farmers, transportation and energy companies, etc., will implement conservation measures to reduce or remove threats to the species and create and maintain habitat each year. Although this agreement focuses specifically on the monarch’s habitat, conservation measures will also benefit several other species, including pollinating insects.

Most of this will take place along roadsides, under hydroelectric power lines and around other energy infrastructure, which may not appear to be prime wildlife habitat, but may in fact be extremely useful both for wildflowers and other plants on which pollinators depend, and for connecting areas of disturbed habitat. Officials estimate that nearly one million hectares of roadsides and utility lands could be affected by the agreement, becoming habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

Avoid the monarch becoming an endangered species

The Agreement itself is a movement in response to an imminent decision by the FWS regarding a possible listing of the Monarch butterfly as an endangered species. By involving 45 different companies in sectors such as transportation and energy, and by engaging landowners in the conservation of the monarch, a potential listing can be avoided.

By engaging early in voluntary conservation, utilities and ministries of transport can avoid increased costs and operational delays resulting from possible listing. This brings enormous value to industry and will also bring great benefits to the monarch butterfly,” said Iris Caldwell, program manager of the Center for Energy Resources at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which will be responsible for the agreement.

A long journey

Once they arrive in Mexico, the monarchs concentrate on the trunks and branches of the oyamel firs, also known as sacred firs, where the filtering of sunlight and the isolation of the surrounding foliage ensure a perfect microclimate. After the winter, the monarchs move north again, laying eggs on the branches of the milkweed, one of the species that the new conservation agreement must strive to protect if the monarchs are not to be listed and become extinct.

It’s interesting to note that the northbound swarms of monarchs will complete their full life cycle in just five to seven weeks each,” says Jaramillo-López. But when autumn returns, a special “super generation” of monarchs that can live for up to eight months will use the air currents to return to Mexico, a feat that seems impossible for such a delicate looking insect.

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