Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the USFWS considering listing the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act?

The monarch butterfly is an iconic species that has a unique and spectacular migration; as such, the monarch has become a symbol for biodiversity and the need to protect our ecosystems. Every winter, monarch butterflies migrate up to three thousand miles, from the upper Midwest to Mexico. Upon their return in the spring, monarchs need milkweed plants along the migration route to lay their eggs, as it is the only source of food their young will eat.

However, the eastern monarch butterfly population has declined by more than 80 percent over the past two decades due to a variety of challenges. Not only are monarchs beautiful and special creatures, they are also pollinators of milkweed and other wildflowers. Both agriculture and biodiversity depend on pollinators, and both intersect and interact in complementary ways.

The USFWS is the principal federal agency responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In this role, USFWS has two major goals: protect endangered and threatened species, and then pursue their recovery; and conserve candidate species and species-at-risk so that listing under the ESA is not necessary.

Several years ago, public interest groups asked the USFWS to determine whether or not the monarch butterfly should be protected under the ESA. In 2018, the USFWS will begin evaluating monarch conservation measures across the migration route to assess the impact of these efforts towards ensuring a resilient monarch population. In June 2019, the USFWS is scheduled to announce its decision on whether the monarch and, possibly its habitat, require federal protection.

What is the timing on the decision of the USFWS?

In 2018, the USFWS will begin evaluating monarch conservation measures across the migration route, including volunteer habitat establishment efforts in the agriculture sector, to assess the impact of these efforts towards ensuring a resilient monarch population. That is why it is so important for farmers and other land managers to begin establishing and/or expanding monarch habitat in the 2018 and 2019 growing seasons. In June 2019, the USFWS is scheduled to announce its decision on whether the monarch and, possibly its habitat, require federal protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

What are the implications for farmers if the monarch is listed as a threatened species by the USFWS?

The precise implications are not yet known. However, if the monarch and its critical habitat are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, it could potentially impact the way farmers manage their land. Potential regulations may include restrictions on pesticide application and mowing.

Monarch
Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Why should farmers get involved?

Farmers and ranchers are uniquely situated and qualified to help make a threatened species designation for the monarch and its habitat unnecessary. More breeding habitat, including milkweed and nectar sources across the U.S. Midwest, will help restore monarch populations to their historical levels. Providing high-quality habitat for monarch benefits farmers by increasing the diversity of pollinators in the area, providing resources for other beneficial species like honey bees, native bees, and birds, and improving soil health and water quality. It also demonstrates farmers’ commitment to environmental stewardship to both customers and their communities.

Additionally, the reputation of agricultural producers stands to benefit from farmers’ participation in voluntary monarch conservation programs.

What are you asking farmers to do?

Establish, proactively maintain and/or expand pollinator habitats that include milkweed on and around the farm. Non-crop areas such as roadsides, field borders, pivot corners, conservation lands, ditches and buffers are ideal places for pollinator habitat.

I already have pollinator habitat, including milkweed, on my farmland. How do I get credit for my habitat?

Some Midwest states have or are moving towards an established monarch conservation program. Some programs offer voluntary registries for farmers to enroll their pollinator habitats, and some programs may offer predictability for farmers in the face of potential future regulatory action. There are also voluntary programs that may offer financial incentives. Farmers should visit the Farm Bureau website for more information or contact their local Farm Bureau, USDA service center or ag extension office.

If I plant monarch habitat, am I at risk of facing future regulation if the monarch is listed as threatened?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have developed an agreement that provides farmers and ranchers with predictability as they implement conservation practices to improve monarch habitat.

The federal agencies’ agreement, a conference report, provides farmers and ranchers that implement conservation measures under a NRCS-approved conservation plan, long-term clarity that they are in compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (i.e., they are exempt from any incidental take associated with implementing conservation practices and measures included in their NRCS conservation plan) if and when the monarch is listed under the ESA.

Are there financial incentives to plant monarch habitat?

Some Midwest states have or are moving towards an established monarch conservation program, some of which offer financial incentives. Farmers should visit the Farm Bureau website for more information or contact their local Farm Bureau, USDA service center or ag extension office. Federal programs that offer financial incentives include:

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
  • Former Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
  • USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Pollinator Program (CRPP)

Monarch
Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Filling out paperwork for government programs is difficult. Why should I do it?

In 2018, the USFWS will begin evaluating monarch conservation measures across the migration route, including volunteer habitat establishment efforts in the agriculture sector, to assess the impact of these efforts towards ensuring a resilient monarch population. By enrolling in a program, farmers can help ensure their efforts are counted. Plus, some programs may offer financial incentives and/or predictability for farmers in the face of potential future regulations. Farmers should visit the Farm Bureau website for more information or contact their local Farm Bureau, USDA service center or ag extension office.

Where can I find more information about local monarch conservation programs?

Check out the resources specific to your state here.

Monarch
Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Are there financial incentives to plant monarch habitat?

Some Midwest states have or are moving towards an established monarch conservation program, some of which offer financial incentives. Farmers should visit the Farm Bureau website for more information or contact their local Farm Bureau, USDA service center or ag extension office. Federal programs that offer financial incentives include:

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
  • Former Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
  • USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Pollinator Program (CRPP)

 

Are voluntary conservation efforts really effective?

Yes, the USFWS has previously found voluntary conservation efforts successful in making it unnecessary to list some species as threatened, like the greater sage-grouse and the New England cottontail.

In 2010, the USFWS determined that the greater sage-grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of population declines caused by habitat loss. Through the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative, more than 1,100 ranchers restored or conserved approximately 4.4 million acres of key habitat for the greater sage-grouse. In 2015, the USFWS concluded that the Sage Grouse Initiative and federal land management plans averted the need to list the greater sage-grouse as a threatened species.

Similarly, public and private conservation efforts helped the New England cottontail population rebound to the point where it was taken off the list of species under consideration for ESA protection. The species was named as a candidate for protection in 2006 and conservation efforts started in 2008. From 2012 to 2015, federal officials worked with private landowners to restore more than 4,400 acres of habitat by removing trees and invasive species, planting native shrubs and creating brush piles for the New England cottontail.

What is the difference between pollinator habitat and monarch habitat?

Many of the same species of plants that support other pollinators will also support monarchs. The important difference is that monarch habitat should include milkweed which is essential for monarchs, in addition to a variety of nectar flower sources.