Monarch Collaborative to address butterfly population decline

Monarch Butterfly flying at Bubolz Nature Preserve, July 11, 2018 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WLUK) -- Efforts are underway to help track the monarch butterfly.

Over the past 20 years, the familiar flyer's population has dropped about 80 percent, and now wildlife experts are joining forces to help turn things around.

At the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve northwest of Appleton, monarch butterflies are busy feeding and pollinating on plants in the prairie .

"It's pretty beautiful. It's bright orange. It's got those beautiful black wings, white spots, with black trim around the edges," said Blair Hill, Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve naturalist.

Experts say the common milkweed is key to the butterflies' survival.

"Oh, it's vital, they're a species specializing on milkweed. The caterpillar stage only eats milkweed," said Hill.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and the caterpillar spends its time feeding until it strips just about everything from the leaves.

But the monarchs may be in trouble. Over the past 20 years, the population has dropped by 80 percent.

"I don't want to say the word crisis, but it's definitely worrying," said Hill.

Recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service population studies could result in putting the insect on the endangered species list. The Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative formed this summer. It is made up of 70 stakeholders representing conservation groups, agriculture, private landowners and more.

"To try to get ahead of this, and get some work done. Get things going on the ground, in advance of that to see if we can have a positive effect," said Ed Culhane, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Culhane says restoring habitat is key, and that means planting more milkweed on some public lands, private backyards and even farm fields.

"Agriculture is a big part of this, so we'll be working with farmers to see what they can do in terms of their land-use practices," he said.

Culhane says the monarchs need that habitat not only in Wisconsin, but along their 2,000 mile winter migration the species makes to and from Mexico -- a trip the monarchs will be making at the end of the summer.

There are 16 Midwestern states involved in the Monarch Collaborative.

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