As farmers struggle with net farm income levels, projected to be down 55 percent from 2013 levels, you may be thinking the last thing you need to worry about is restoring or creating a Monarch butterfly habitat, which consists primarily of milkweed, said Michigan Farm Bureau Ag Ecology Manager Laura Campbell.
But if you understand the implications if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the butterfly as an endangered species (and it may as early as 2019), you’ll quickly realize the value of a pro-active approach.
The threat is real, Campbell said. It’s also the primary motivation behind companies such as BASF and Monsanto leading efforts to get farmers to take the issue seriously.
“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has broad authority to restrict activity to prevent “taking” (killing, harming, hunting/trapping or harassing) of an endangered species,” Campbell said. “This includes altering its habitat, which for an insect could include spraying for weeds, mowing, plowing, grazing, or making other land use changes that would cause harm to an endangered species if it is found on your property.”
The impact could be far-reaching, she said, when you factor in the significant amount of Cornbelt territory Monarch butterflies cover during their migration back and forth to Mexico and as far north as portions of Canada.
“Even if it’s not found on your property, any involvement with federal agencies, including easements, permits, farm bill program enrollment, or others, could require consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service for any lands in the species’ identified range under ESA,” Campbell said. “Listing the Monarch butterfly across more than half the U.S., including Michigan, could severely restrict farm activity anyplace the butterfly is found.”
According to Campbell, MFB, along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State University, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners are promoting the development of a habitat management plan for the Monarch butterfly.
This habitat management plan, in coordination with other state plans, will be submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to demonstrate that landowners, state and federal agencies, scientists and universities are committed to taking the actions needed to help the Monarch recover without the need for listing under the Endangered Species Act and all the regulation that comes with it.
One way landowners and farmers can help is by participating in one of the pollinator protection programs offered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and a new offering in Michigan from NRCS under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
NRCS cost-share funding
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the availability of a new program to assist landowners in conserving monarch butterflies. Starting in 2018, the NRCS will target financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Monarch Habitat Initiative for implementing designated practices that create or improve monarch habitat.
Some of these practices include conservation cover, field borders, prescribed burning and brush management. Eligible landowners may be able to receive financial assistance to offset the cost of establishing or improving pollinator and monarch habitat.
Local NRCS conservationists will work with private landowners to create habitat for pollinators on farms, orchards and forests. Payment is provided after the practices have been installed and determined to meet NRCS standards.
The NRCS accepts applications for conservation financial assistance on a continuous basis. Applications may be submitted at local field offices or online using the Conservation Client Gateway. On designated dates, applications are ranked and selected for funding.
Monarch butterfly population red flag
Populations of the monarch butterflies have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years and continue to decline, according to latest research. Due to inclement weather in Mexico, the annual population report shows a 27 percent decrease in 2017 from the previous year's population.
“That’s a red flag, and researchers who study the conservation of monarchs say that it’s going to take all of us pitching in to change this trend,” said Karli Moore, Ag Professional Development Program, BASF, in an interview.
Some skeptics have honed in on agriculture as being responsible for the milkweed loss due to new technology and effective control measures used by growers in getting weeds out of crop areas. That’s when BASF stepped in and decided to be part of the solution.
BASF launched a biodiversity research initiative called Living Acres two years ago in Holly Springs, N.C., in hope of increasing the monarchs’ population by planting milkweed in non-crop areas, such as ditches, roadsides, alleyways and border areas. The objective was to provide information to farmers about planting milkweed in non-crop areas in an economic and practical manner.
Monsanto is expected to announce a similar effort at the 2018 Commodity Classic when it announces “Farmers for Monarchs” labelled as a united effort by the agriculture industry to encourage the establishment and expansion of pollinator/conservation habitat, including milkweed, along the monarch butterfly seasonal migration route.
The company cites U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services efforts starting this year to evaluate monarch conservation measures across the migration route with a decision expected in 2019 on whether to designate monarchs a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Milkweed is the sole plant that monarch larvae feed on, making it a critical part of the monarch life cycle.