WASHINGTON — The federal government pledged $3.2 million on Monday to help save the monarch butterfly, the iconic orange-and-black butterfly that can migrate thousands of miles between the U.S. and Mexico each year. It has experienced a 90 percent decline in population recently.
About $2 million will restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat from California to the Corn Belt, including more than 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. The rest will be used to start a conservation fund that will provide grants to farmers and other landowners to conserve habitat.
The move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service comes as it considers whether to classify the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which would afford the butterfly more protection.
"We can save the monarch butterfly in North America but only if we act quickly and together," said Service Director Dan Ashe.
The monarch lays its eggs exclusively on the milkweed plant. Conversion of prairies into cropland and the increasing use of pesticide-resistant crops have greatly reduced milkweed, which is also an important food source, particularly in the heartland, according to the petition filed last August by environmental groups. The conservation projects will be focused on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer habitat along the butterfly's migration path.
Those groups said the new announcement was a positive step but said the species needs legal protection.
Monarchs are pollinators and indicators of broader environmental problems.
"The specter of listing will spur a lot of conservation for the monarch," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that asked the Fish and Wildlife Service last August to protect the monarch butterfly and set aside critical habitat.
But Curry said the butterfly needed to be listed for it to recover.