“There are now more Starbucks in California than monarch butterflies.” This simple statement from the Center for Biological Diversity sums up a dark forecast for this iconic pollinator.
Western monarchs have declined by over 99.9% since the 1980s, with just under 2,000 migrating individuals found at the most recent count in late 2020. Other pollinators, too, are threatened: The Western Bumble Bee has declined 90% in the past two decades, and butterflies like the Mardon Skipper and the Oregon Branded Skipper are known to only exist in isolated and shrinking populations, according to the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center.
Federal lawmakers are stepping in to address this issue by making funds available for habitat improvement and conservation projects across the West, and specifically places like the Klamath-Siskiyous, where species endemism is high.
Two major pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress which, if passed, could provide a major influx of cash to support habitat restoration in our region. One is the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act (MONARCH Act) of 2021, which would authorize $62.5 million for western monarch conservation projects, and another $62.5 million to implement the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan, paid out over the next five years.
This plan, developed by US Fish & Wildlife, calls for habitat restoration with a focus on native plants that provide food and habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.
The second piece of legislation is the Monarchs & Pollinators Highway Act. This act would earmark $35 million in funding to go toward pollinator-friendly projects on roadsides and highway rights-of-way. The Oregon Department of Transportation and local Native American tribes would be eligible to apply for these grants. (ODOT as well as several tribal groups already participate in the Rogue Native Plant Partnership.)
Both the MONARCH and the Monarchs & Pollinators Highway Act are seeing solid support by legislators, and our local offices of the US Fish & Wildlife Service are encouraging partners to develop “shovel-ready” projects that can be implemented if or when these funds become available, which could be as early as fall 2021. Altogether about $55 million per year in funding could be released if the bills go through.
What’s a “shovel-ready” project? One that puts native plants in the ground now so that pollinators can access them this time next year. The underlying message here is that we need more native plants. Restoration practitioners will be looking for containerized plants for their projects, as well as native grass and wildflower seeds that can be direct sown. To meet the potential demand for native plant materials in the coming years, local growers will need to scale up their production. Seeds will need to be increased in grow-out operations over multiple acres, and many hours of work will go into turning those seeds into habitat.
For the monarchs and other fascinating, beautiful and ecologically critical pollinators, we think it will be worth the effort.
Want to get involved?
- The Southwestern Oregon Pollinator Collaborative brings together agencies like the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Transportation, pollinator advocacy groups and restoration practitioners to discuss solutions, share resources and prioritize action in Southwest Oregon.
- Through The Understory Initiative, private landowners can receive financial and technical assistance to grow native seed crops or create pollinator habitat.
- The Rogue Native Plant Partnership’s native seed collection efforts play a critical role in making native seeds available to growers and for direct seeding in habitat restoration. All are welcome to volunteer with us – check out our summer 2021 events here.
- Learn more about how to support pollinators in RNPP’s Resource Library.