Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ag Issues & Public Relations Webinar – June 30th -10 am PST, 11 am MST, 12 pm CST and 1 pm EST

Ag Issues & Public Relations Webinar – June 30th -10 am PST, 11 am MST, 12 pm CST and 1 pm EST.

Webinar Topic: Agriculture’s Opportunity to Take a Role in Monarch Butterfly Conservation

The monarch butterfly is one of the most well-known and widely distributed butterflies in the United States.  Dozens of species of milkweed are acceptable larvae host plants, but over much of the eastern and central United States common milkweed and butterfly weed are a few of the most widely available.  Both species are strongly influenced by agricultural land use decisions and weed management practices.

A sharp decline in the population of this butterfly over the last decade has captured public and government attention.  The Corn Belt region of the U.S. is known as a high production area for breeding monarchs, but with the widespread loss of their larval host plants in the region due to the onset of herbicide tolerant crops, monarch and milkweed populations have diminished. While this has been identified as one of the chief causes of the monarch decline, conservationists are working to mitigate numerous threats throughout the North American range.

Public Opinion on Agriculture’s Impacts on the Monarch Butterfly

Public concern about B.t. toxins in the pollen of B.t. corn causing harm to monarch larvae is also apparent. Studies have shown that while this toxin can be detrimental to other Lepidoptera, including monarchs, it may not be as high of a conservation priority because exposure levels are lower.

Significant reduction of milkweed populations due to an increase in use of glyphosate-resistant GE corn is a more recent focus of public attention.  See http://www.mlmp.org/results/findings/pleasants_and_oberhauser_2012_milkweed_loss_in_ag_fields.pdf  for a published article documenting the reduction of milkweed availability and its impact on monarch populations.    

Butterfly weed, among other species, is a typical component of seed mixes used in conservation plantings.  High corn prices raised public concern that conservation plantings would be put into crop production, lessening natural habitat for many wildlife species, including monarchs.
These topics have generated a great deal of discussion amongst many partners looking to identify ways to collaborate on a viable solution for an iconic species.  

Scientific and Governmental Attention to the Monarch Butterfly Situation
A North American Monarch Conservation Plan was put forth in 2008 by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), an organization with representation from the United States, Canada and Mexico.  See http://www.mlmp.org/Resources/pdf/5431_Monarch_en.pdf

In February 2014 a joint statement was issued by President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.  It included:
            “Our governments will establish a working group to ensure the conservation
              of the Monarch butterfly, a species that symbolizes our association.”

In August of 2014 a petition to place the monarch on the federal threatened and endangered species list was presented to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.  Some groups disagree with this method of protection monarchs, but it has garnered a lot of public attention to the issue. The fate of this petition is still to be determined. The full petition can be found at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/invertebrates/pdfs/Monarch_ESA_Petition.pdf.  

The U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service released information regarding $2 million in funding for monarch conservation in February of 2015.  For more information, see:

“Conservation and Management of Monarch Butterflies: A Strategic Framework” was published by Forest Service of the U.S.D.A. in March of 2015. 

There are a number of organizations and groups that are concerned with monarch conservation, two of the most authoritative are:

Monarch Joint Venture- http://monarchjointventure.org/

Erwin 'Duke' Elsner, Ph.D.
Small Fruit / Consumer Horticulture Educator
Michigan State University Extension
520 W. Front Street, Suite A, Traverse City, MI 49684   
phone: 231 922-4822  fax: 231-947-6783  email:  elsner@msu.edu

Duke Elsner has been an agricultural educator for Michigan State University Extension for 25 years, currently specializing in small fruit production and consumer horticulture.  He holds a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Entomology, and has studied North American butterflies and moths for over 40 years.  He is a former president of the Michigan Association of Extension Agents and the Michigan Entomological Society. 

Wendy Caldwell is the coordinator of the Monarch Joint Venture, a national partnership working to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. In this position, she works with over 30 partner organizations across the U.S. to protect and restore habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. Prior to her role with the Joint Venture, Wendy worked for Dr. Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab, leading the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project and assisting with research efforts and educational workshops for teachers.

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