Will Interstate 35 become a road to salvation for Monarch butterflies?


A new partnership that aims to create habitat for the beleaguered Monarch butterfly will focus on the Interstate 35 corridor running between Duluth and Brownsville, Texas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a pair of foundations announced the $3.2 million initiative on behalf of an iconic butterfly whose numbers have fallen by 90 percent in less than two decades.

I-35 runs through the Monarch's migratory path between Mexico and Canada.

As the Washington Post reports, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was on hand to announce the partnership at the National Press Club.

To illustrate the place of the Monarch butterfly in the hearts of Americans, Klobuchar told the crowd about her mother. A second-grade teacher, she was so enamored of Monarchs she would dress as one during their annual migration, complete with a "Mexico or Bust" sign, Klobuchar said.

Much of the federal money will promote the planting of milkweed, the plant where Monarchs feed and lay their eggs. The Fish and Wildlife Service will provide seeds to volunteers willing to plant milkweed in patios, roadsides, and parks.

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In a letter to the secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and Transportation Departments, Klobuchar also suggests a partnership to plant milkweed in the rights -of-way used by utility companies.

Scientists are still trying to learn why Monarch numbers have fallen so precipitously.

The Fish and Wildlife Service attributes some of the decline to habitat loss. But research by University of Minnesota entomologist Vera Krischik is looking at the role of pesticides.

MPR News reports the early findings in her project link the category of pesticides that has quickly become the most widely used in the world – neonicotinoids – to Monarch loss.

Krischik fed Monarchs an amount of the pesticide that might typically be found on backyard plants. While adult butterflies could tolerate the pesticide, it was lethal to their larvae.

Some studies have also connected neonicotinoids to the decline of another plant pollinator, the honey bee.

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