GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The effort to keep alive the nearly extinct Monarch butterfly is getting a boost from the city of Greensboro.
Monarchs, those orange-and-black beauties that have iconic status across North America, are fighting a plummet into extinction that has seen the population decline by some 99% in the past half-century.
Monarchconservation.org reports the Monarch’s population actually increased in the 2021-22 season by 35%, as measured in Mexico where the eastern Monarch migrates during winter. In California, where the western Monarch spends its winters, the decline has been from about 1.2 million in the 1990s to fewer than 2000 in 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity reported.
The population count in Mexico was only 29,418 observed butterflies, which is about 1% of the number recorded in 1980.
But the eastern states account for about 99% of the population of those butterflies in North America, and the Monarch’s migration pattern brings them right through North Carolina. Some of them fly as much as 3,000 miles, biologists say.
Biologists said that in 2019 there were an estimated 300 million of them passing through on their return from Mexico, but in 2020 that figure was down to 141.5 million.
That’s where the city of Greensboro comes in. Mayor Nancy Vaughan on Thursday signed the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, joining a network of cities that have committed to help save the population of those butterflies.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department will plant more milkweed and native plants to create more habitats for pollinating insects, such as the Monarch, the city said in a release.
Monarchs help pollinate plants, and Monarch caterpillars lay their eggs exclusively on the leaves of the milkweed plants. There are six varietals of milkweed in the Eastern U.S. But the loss of these natural habitats to development and the expansion of herbicides have increased the decline of the species, experts say.
The city will expand its plantings in gardens at the Downtown Greenway, Greensboro Arboretum, Keeley Park Community Garden, and Price Park and educate the public about the need for native habitats. The city says the butterfly garden at the Arboretum, which is a joint project with Greensboro Beautiful, is a certified monarch waystation and includes interpretive signs to inform the public.
The Greensboro Science Center has its new Cole Family Butterfly House and Monarch Conservation Project that allows visitors to interact with the Monarchs and other species.
“The City of Greensboro and our community partners have already taken steps to increase natural pollinator habitat across our facilities,” Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department Director Nasha McCray said in the release announcing the new effort. “We look forward to working with our colleagues and our neighbors to expand this habitat throughout the city.”
Patrick Fitzgerald, senior director of community wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation, said in the release that such efforts by municipalities “play a pivotal role in advancing monarch butterfly conservation in urban and suburban areas.”