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Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Mainpage headerThe 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.

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NRCS is workinMonarch Butterfly initiative target map 2016g with agricultural producers in the Midwest and southern Great Plains to combat the decline of monarch butterflies by planting milkweed and other nectar-rich plants on private lands. This region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin, is the core of the monarch’s migration route and breeding habitat.  

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.

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NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to help landowners manage for monarch habitat on farms, ranches and forests. This assistance helps producers plan and implement a variety of conservation activities, or practices, that benefit the monarch, pollinators and many other wildlife species.

Technical assistance is free to producers. The agency’s staff of experts and conservation partners work side-by-side with producers to develop a conservation plan. Each plan focuses on monarch habitat management and is tailored to the producer’s property. These plans provide a roadmap for how to use a system of conservation practices to meet natural resource and production goals. 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.

With financial 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.

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NRCS is a nationally identified target species of the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, a collaborative approach to conserve habitat on working lands. NRCS collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, enabling the species to be added to the effort in 2017. 

Through WLFW, NRCS targets conservation efforts where the returns are highest by targeting the threat of habitat loss. WLFW is able to provide technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and Conservation Stewardship Program , three programs funded through the Farm Bill, the largest funding source for wildlife habitat conservation on private lands.

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If you’re interested in technical and financial assistance from NRCS, please contact your local USDA service center. An NRCS conservationist in your community will help you develop a conservation plan customized to your land, and if you’re interested, apply for financial assistance through Farm Bill conservation programs. Learn more about getting started with NRCS.

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General Resources

Midwest Resources

Southern Great Plains Resources