White House Calls for One Billion Milkweed Plants to Save Monarch Butterflies

A new plan to help protect the nation’s pollinator recently released by the White House could mean a billion milkweed plants throughout the Midwest.

The plan calls for more than one billion milkweed plants to be added to a 200-mile wide corridor along I-35 running from Minnesota to Texas.

Milkweed is the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, which have been on a steady decline in recent years as genetically modified corn and soy crops rely on glyphosate, an herbicide that kills milkweed.

If the plan succeeds, it could rescue these vital pollinators from their population decline, which has decreased significantly in recent years. According to the Minnesota Star Tribune, their numbers have crashed since the mid-1990s, “when they covered 30 to 40 acres of acres of trees every winter. Now, the trend is so alarming “that last year a number of environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put the butterfly on the federal Endangered Species list, which the agency is now considering.”

Similar to the steady decline of honey bee populations, scientists point to a few factors in the decline of monarch butterflies, mainly the loss of milkweed, which is not only impacted by the use of herbicide, but also the use of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which have been cited as a leading cause of honey bee decline. Experts also point to climate change as a key factor in decreasing milkweed growth.

“We are going to get the most bang for our buck by concentrating on the prairie corridor,” Karen Oberhauser, a University of Minnesota professor and one of two key scientists advising federal agencies on the monarch plan said of the proposed milkweed planting.

Monarchs may be the main focus of the planting, but other species will also benefit from milkweed. “It’s a flagship species for a lot of other critters that will enjoy that habitat,” Tom Melius, director of the Midwest region for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is leading the monarch restoration plan told the Tribune. Other species include grassland birds and other pollinators, he said.

The plan to plant milkweed will require more than 500 million seeds, and it’s no small task considering there aren’t that many milkweed seeds currently available. And adding to the concern is that “[milkweed] plants lost on agricultural land will never come back,” reports the Tribune. “So the new monarch plan calls for planting milkweed somewhere else.”

But if all goes according to plan, you can expect to see a lot more monarchs in the next several years.

Image: gailhampshire

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