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Monarch Butterflies

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Monarch Butterfly initiative target map 2016

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The monarch is one of the most familiar butterflies in North America. The orange-and-black butterfly is known for its annual, multi-generational migration from Mexico to as far north as Canada. Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during the journey.

But monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, on which their caterpillars feed. Agriculture and development have removed much of the native milkweed that once spanned the country.

Because monarch butterflies are always on the move, they need to have the right plants at the right time along their migration route. Caterpillars need to feed on milkweed to complete their life cycle, and adult butterflies need the right nectar producing plants in bloom for needed energy.

How Do NRCS’ Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts Work?

NRCS is working with agricultural producers to combat the decline of monarch butterflies by planting milkweed and other nectar-rich plants on private lands. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

To accelerate conservation to benefit monarch butterflies, NRCS is targeting conservation efforts at the heart of the butterfly’s migration route. NRCS launched the effort in 2015, and assistance is available for producers in 10 states in the Southern Plains and Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

With assistance from NRCS, producers and conservation partners can plant milkweed and nectar-rich plants along field borders, in buffers along waterways or around wetlands, in pastures and other suitable locations.

NRCS worked with The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and butterfly experts across the United States to choose the best milkweed species and nectar producing plants to recommend for landowners. Plant lists are available for producers in the Midwest and southern Great Plains. Learn more about NRCS’ Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project.

Interested producers are encouraged to contact their local USDA service center.

How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit Producers?

Milkweed not only provides food for monarchs, it also supports other pollinators such as honey bees that are vital to agriculture. Milkweed also provides homes for beneficial insects that control the spread of destructive insects.

Meanwhile, NRCS conservation practices that benefit monarch butterflies and other insects also help reduce erosion, increase soil health, control invasive species, provide quality forage for livestock and make agricultural operations more resilient and productive. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to implement these practices, helping producers improve working lands and strengthening rural economies.


NRCS is working with conservation partners, including the Xerces Society, to develop habitat assessment tools, rangeland management guides, and recommended lists of native plants to meet the unique habitat needs for the monarch butterfly.

NRCS’ effort contributes to a multi-agency, international strategy to reverse the monarch’s population decline in North America. The North American Monarch Conservation Plan has a goal for 10 million acres of monarch habitat to be created or restored in the United States. President Obama met with Mexico President Enrique Peña and Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2014 to discuss a continent-wide effort to help the monarch and restore loss of milkweed.