Monarch butterflies disappearing from western North America

The western monarch butterfly is all but gone.

WSU researchers say their numbers have declined 97% in the last few decades, driving them dangerously close to extinction. But until now, data on their number has been limited, so the species isn’t even listed as “endangered.”

Biologist Cheryl Schultz says, “if the numbers continue going down at the rate we’re going down now, we could lose these populations of migratory monarchs in the next few decades.”

Distinct from the eastern monarch, the species breeds in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah then migrates to coastal California for the winter. Schultz suspects the loss of that wintering habitat and a decline in breeding grounds as potential causes, though more research is needed.

But she says the western monarch can still be saved. Schultz says a similar species was nearing extinction in Oregon back in the 1990s, but conservation efforts were able to save it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which funded the study, is currently considering whether to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Elizabeth Crone, Tufts University professor and a co-author on the study, says that “The hard part of being a conservation biologist is documenting species declines. The exciting part is figuring out how to help declining species recover.

In the 20th century, we brought bald eagles back from the brink of extinction by limiting use of DDT. If we start now, we can make the 21st century the era in which monarchs return to our landscapes.”

sourced – Representative Publication — Schultz, C. B, and E. E. Crone. 2005. Patch size and isolation thresholds for butterfly habitat restoration. Conservation Biology 19: 887-896


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