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Most of the questions at Wednesday’s news conference focused on events in the United States, Oberhauser said. For decades the focus has been Mexico’s conservation efforts, partly because the butterflies nest in 11 relatively small, well-defined preserves. Their huge range in the United States makes conservation efforts difficult.
U.S. farmers grow corn that has been engineered to be toxic to lepidoptera, a moth called the European corn borer. Pollen from this corn is toxic, and conservationists fear that it may blow onto milkweed plants that monarch butterflies rely on. Corn also has been engineered to resist herbicides like Roundup, which kills milkweed.
Oberhauser said monarchs can adapt to disturbed habitats as long as milkweed and nectar plants are present. She said a number of state and federal agencies, universities and nongovernmental organizations are working together in what’s called the Monarch Joint Venture to replace lost habitats. Individuals can help, she said, by planting locally sourced, native milkweed and nectar plants, and by spreading the word. It’s important to use local plants, she said, because some varieties, especially those planted year-round in some southern states, have led to disturbances in the migratory patterns.
Individuals also can help by asking property managers and local governments to avoid mowing milkweed plants when monarch eggs and caterpillars might be present, and by avoiding the use of insecticides.
Monarch butterflies are also found in California, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and southern Spain and Portugal, among other places. So the butterfly is not threatened with extinction, Oberhauser said. “It’s the migratory phenomenon” that’s in jeopardy.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493