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Monarchs in need of protection

Butterfly expert Kenn Kaufman gave encouragement to gardeners. Through planting even tiny patches of native wildflowers for these beloved insects, he said, we can critically aid their survival.
So, did area gardeners who added milkweed plants from the Jonesborough arboretum to their plots last summer have a hand in securing a bit of improvement in the eastern monarch butterflies’ migration to southern wintering grounds?
After an all-time low in 2013-14 of just over 1½ acres of roosting trees being covered in their mountain reserve in central Mexico, this winter the hibernating monarchs covered 2¾ acres.
The Xerces Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation of butterflies and other non-vertebrate animals, gives estimates of from 10 to 50 million monarchs per acre normally loading those fir trees.
Visitors who have seen it describe as awe-inspiring the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of the beautiful insects resting on one tree after a flight of thousands of miles from North America. During a peak year in the late ’90s, the trees in more than 18 acres were loaded with monarchs, not 2 acres as in the “better than last year” current winter.
The society, with several other national conservation groups and Dr. Lincoln Brower of Sweet Briar College, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last August to give threatened status protection to the monarch butterfly under the endangered-species law. The service is seeking public input on this petition until Monday, March 2. Supporting information and a link for comment submission can be found at the website http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=FWS-R3-ES-2014-0056.
In the 20 years since monarch migration tracking began, many forces have combined to cause the decline in their numbers. Drastic loss in the U.S. of common milkweed, a nectar source for the adult monarch and only food source for its larvae, is mainly to blame.
The spread of “Round-up ready” corn and soybean to more than 157 million acres by 2013, coupled with land development, makes much of the landscape barren of food to raise the fall generations that would migrate to the wintering grounds in Mexico by the eastern monarch, and in Southern California by the western monarch.
Since Roundup kills milkweed at the root, preventing regrowth, the result is a 96.5 percent decline of this plant in our vast, chemicals-driven, industrial agriculture areas. Biofuels production, converting Conservation Reserve Program lands to more corn growing, has caused additional habitat loss.
With few milkweed plants remaining, bacteria and parasites become concentrated on them, thus exposing visiting monarchs to various diseases. And, resting or feeding on a plant that now stands out in the landscape, the adults and eggs and caterpillars become enhanced targets for birds, spiders, wasps and many other predators. Scarcity of the host plant, researchers find, now adds the risk of “extremely high levels of both predation and parasitism” to the monarch’s survival prospects.
The petition describes yet other, serious problems. The whole aggregate of these would seem, readily, to strike “a reasonable person to believe,” as the listing law requires, that formal protection measures are warranted.