Last month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the migratory North American monarch butterfly as endangered. This decision comes after estimates showed that there’s been a 22-72% decline in adult monarchs over the past decade. The western population is at the greatest risk of extinction, with estimates showing a decrease from as many as 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021, a 99.9% decrease. However, while the IUCN provides information to support conservation efforts globally, its recommendations have no regulatory authority in the U.S.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) does have regulatory authority through the Endangered Species Act to determine if the monarch should be classified as endangered in the U.S. The USFWS did determine that the monarch should be listed under the Endangered Species Act a couple years ago, but the listing was precluded because there were other species with higher priority and there was significant monarch conservation already being implemented throughout the country. As a result, the USFWS said it anticipated reviewing the monarch’s status in 2024. Nicole Shimp of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium said that, while the IUCN’s decision brought a lot of attention to monarchs, we still don’t have any listing here in the U.S.
The loss of habitat is hard on every species, but it’s especially rough for monarchs since they only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Urbanization isn’t the only cause for this, either- spraying for weeds also limits their reproduction. Shimp said the best thing people can do for the monarchs is plant milkweeds in their yards.
Fortunately, milkweed isn’t hard to find. If you find some growing naturally, consider letting it grow out a bit. Otherwise, Shimp said it’s pretty easy added to get a good seed mix that includes milkweed and nectar plants.
Pollinators like butterflies play a huge role in helping raise strong crops. Shimp said they’re also very important to the food chains of local ecosystems.
While the current status of the monarch butterfly population isn’t great, not everything is super grim. Shimp said they saw the population hold steady this year instead of declining, which means the conservation efforts are working.
Shimp added that there are plenty of conservation resources available online.
For more information, visit iowamonarchs.info.