The monarch butterfly species in North America is recognizable by almost anyone. That is how common it…was. It is now in trouble as their numbers are dramatically falling. This is not only bad for their species, but for others as well. Their habitat supports pheasant, quail, waterfowl and many other species. Their habitat also provides outdoor recreation opportunities for humans, like hunting and wildlife observation.
The problem is so severe that the population has decreased by 90% over the last 20 years. The reasons being primarily habitat loss and fragmentation occurring throughout the monarch’s range. This has been happening because pesticide use can destroy the milkweed that monarchs need to survive. Another reason is changing climate causing intensified weather events which may impact monarch populations. It is to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is reviewing whether they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In recent years there has been a massive effort to provide habitat for monarch butterflies, imperiled bumblebees and other pollinators across the United States of America. A variety of groups, agencies, and organizations have been responsible for providing habitat needed for monarch conservation. Recently, one collaboration is really standing out. The Audubon International and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have partnered to launch Monarchs in the Rough with assisted funding from USGA.
Monarchs in the Rough is a program to assist golf courses in the United States, Canada and Mexico in creating monarch butterfly habitat in out-of-play areas. The project is doing rather well since its launch at the beginning of 2018. It has commitments from 250 courses so far to plant milkweed and other pollinator flowers on at least one acre per course. With additional funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the goal for 2019 is 500 more courses, 50 in each of 10 states.
They are offering the amazing opportunity for the first 100 participants – enough free and regionally appropriate milkweed seeds to establish one acre of habitat! As part of the program, Monarchs in the Rough helps the golf courses by providing course superintendents and staff with the information and technical support they need to incorporate monarch habitat into the unique layout of each course.
Marcus Gray, director of the Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf at Audubon International, said:
“Over the past 20 years, populations of the iconic monarch butterfly have declined by 90 percent. A key reason for this population decline is loss of habitat, especially of milkweed plants, which monarchs need to reproduce and for their caterpillars to eat. As large landowners, golf courses are uniquely positioned to help reverse habitat loss and save monarchs, providing a much-needed refuge while increasing the beauty and sustainability of their courses.”
Approximately 2.5 million acres of the United States is occupied by golf courses. According to that, Audubon International estimates there are at least 100,000 acres that have the potential to become suitable habitat for butterflies.
Dr. Kimberly Erusha, managing director of the U.S. Golf Association’s (USGA) Green Section, the department that helps courses with turf, environment and sustainability issues, said:
“About 70 percent of most golf course acreage is managed for out-of-play areas. That’s an ideal habitat area where we can contribute to monarch butterfly and pollinator conservation.”
Planting milkweed isn’t the only recommendation though. The program encourages golf courses to adopt other, additional conservation practices as well. For example, planting wildflowers as a source of nectar, changing mowing practices to support the timing of the monarch’s migration, and protecting sites from pesticide treatments.
Before Monarchs in the Rough launched, however, some courses were already stepping up to monarch conservation on their own, for example, a really prestigious course in Kentucky called Valhalla. Brent Harrel, Partners for Fish and Wildlife coordinator in Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, said:
“Golf courses are perfect for monarch habitat. Establishing these habitats lowers maintenance costs over the long-term, adds color to the course, educates the public about conservation, and helps move courses toward green practices.”
At Valhalla, the management put up signs explaining the area is a monarch and pollinator habitat. They did that to help educate golfers about the garden because “Golfers are used to everything being nicely mowed and manicured,” Harrel said they see the sign, and “They say, ‘Oh, I get it.'”
The conservationists hope that as more people become aware of the threat to monarch butterflies, and when they learn how to restore the habitat from seeing examples such as at Valhalla, the habitat rehabilitation will catch on and spread.
Daniel Kaiser, senior manager of California habitat markets at EDF, said:
“If we are to succeed in recovering populations of this beloved species, we will need help from all sectors and all types of land uses. It’s exciting to see the golf course community stepping up to do its part.”
But to really make an impact, all organizations, agencies and individuals must work together to improve, restore and create grassland habitats to save monarchs. No matter who you are or where you live, you can be a part of improving the environment and restore habitat for the monarch butterfly.
All you have to do is begin with planting some milkweed and nectar plants that are native to your area. Do it without pesticides to minimize your impacts on monarchs, their food plants and other pollinators. You can even think of yourself as a citizen scientist! Monitor the monarchs in your area and pass on your knowledge by educating others about pollinators, conservation and how they can help too.