Kansas Monarch Summit 2017: Strange Bedfellows/Common Goals
By Elaine Giessel, Conservation Chair, Kansas Chapter
Recently, Sierra magazine online published a summary piece on the monarch crisis: http://sierraclub.org/sierra/massive-milkweed-restoration-could-help-save-monarch-butterfly.
If you really want to dive deeply into the (milk)weeds, check out the link in the article to a technical paper entitled “Restoring monarch butterfly habitat in the Midwestern US: ‘all hands on deck.’”
It took the plight of this unique migratory butterfly to bring together an unusually diverse group of stakeholders at the Kansas Monarch Summit in Topeka, June 7-8. Sponsors of the Summit were Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the Kansas Wildlife Federation and Westar Energy, with planning assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Monarch Watch, No-Till on the Plains, Kansas State University, and the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie & Big Rivers Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
The purpose of the Summit was to identify current pollinator protection projects across the state and to develop a collaborative Kansas Monarch Conservation Plan. The contact list distributed after the meeting includes almost 100 individuals from 60 different organizations. Most participated in the facilitated meeting, including personnel from federal, state and local governmental agencies, representatives of environmental and conservation organizations, educators, right-of-way industry folks, academics, and spokespersons for agriculture and crop chemicals. Strange bedfellows, indeed!
What brought us all to the Summit is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) “species status assessment” currently underway to determine if listing the iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted. Since more than 90 percent of overwintering monarchs originate in the Cornbelt and their migration route is right across Kansas, there is much at stake.
On August 26, 2014, based on ongoing threats and resulting monarch population decline, the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, joined by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower, submitted a legal petition to protect the highly imperiled butterfly as a threatened species under the ESA. The final decision is scheduled to be released by end of June 2019. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/invertebrates/monarch_butterfly/pdfs/Centers_Monarch_Butterfly_12_Mo_NOI.pdf
If the final determination is to list the monarch as threatened, the ramifications on land use in the Midwest would be significant. Studies indicate that current cropland and rangeland practices have both contributed to significant declines in monarch populations.
Part of the USFWS assessment process includes the Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts (PECE). The policy allows for consideration of recently adopted or implemented conservation efforts when determining whether to list a species. PECE also provides information to groups interested in developing agreements or plans that would contribute to making it unnecessary to list a species.
Kansas is working with 16 other states to develop regional and local monarch conservation strategies. The ultimate goal is to avoid “listing” of the monarch and to minimize socio-economic impacts resulting from the designation of critical habitat along its migratory route.
Meanwhile, the national Sierra Club is fighting efforts by Congressional Republicans to weaken the Endangered Species Act itself, amid complaints that the landmark 44-year-old law hinders drilling,logging and other activities. While fully supporting the use of incentives and voluntary conservation efforts to protect the monarch, the Kansas Sierra Club also recognizes the value of the ESA. It provides the legal “stick” that can motivate private landowners and local agencies to take advantage of the “carrots” available.
The successful implementation of a coordinated statewide plan for restoring monarch populations could have far-reaching benefits. As a result of protecting monarch habitat, there should be multiple collateral benefits to the environment: more biodiversity and resilience in plant and pollinator communities, improved soil conservation, fewer sources of air and water pollution, and reduced application of deadly biocides. There may even be impacts on climate change, by increasing CO2 sequestration in restored prairies and by reducing carbon emissions associated with some current agricultural practices.
By saving the monarch, we may also be saving ourselves.