DEP publishes guide on how to protect monarch butterfly

Published Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A monarch butterfly conservation guide has been published by the state Department of Environmental Protection as a way to protect and grow the state's declining monarch butterfly population, a DEP official said.

The guide shows what steps can be taken to increase the number of monarchs in New Jersey, said Commissioner Bob Martin.

Monarch butterflies have had a long and storied presence in New Jersey, for their extraordinary annual migratory flights every fall along the East Coast, through Cape May, on the way to Mexico for the winter, Martin said, and they're a recognizable indicator species for the health of a wide range of insects that have an essential pollinating function.

"We know pollinators are extremely important to New Jersey's ecology and environment," Martin said. "Consequently, we wanted to put our best information out to the public through this very comprehensive guide so everyone from students to farmers to businesses understands why monarch butterflies are significant indicators of habitat health, and what everyone can do to help them thrive again."

According to the DEP, substantial habitat loss in this county and Mexico and the loss of plants on which the butterflies feed are among the factors that have contributed to a 90 percent decline in the eastern U.S. population of migrating monarchs during the past 20 years.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is working with landowners and farmers in this state to create and promote a healthy habitat for the monarch butterfly, the DEP said.

The guide offers an overview of the butterfly’s migration pattern and lifestyle, habitat needs, cultural and environmental significance, factors contributing to its population decrease, efforts made in public education, conservation and research and advise on how to help the butterfly.

"The Division of Parks and Forestry is doing its part by taking very specific actions on state lands to try to enhance habitats for pollinators such as monarch butterflies," said Parks and Forestry Director Mark Texel. "We have the ability to turn around this population decline and encourage others to take steps that will attract these beautiful butterflies and grow their presence again in our state."

Eastern monarch butterflies are typically seen in New Jersey during the summer, DEP officials said. In the past, visitors flocked to Cape May to see monarch butterflies during the fall migration season, as the insects gathered to journey to wintering roosts in Mexico, but those sightings dwindled as the butterfly's population plummeted.

Cape May's important role in monarch butterfly migration led to the establishment in 1990 of the Monarch Monitoring Project, which gathers data and conducts informational programs on monarch biology and tagging.

Reinvigorating New Jersey's monarch butterfly population can start with the planting of milkweed and other nectar-producing plants, Martin said, and the DEP has undertaken a number of steps to improve pollinating habitats for monarch butterflies.

In addition to Parks and Forestry's efforts, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has provided milkweed seed to the New Jersey Forest Nursery for propagation. When those are large enough, the nursery will distribute seedlings to state parks and Wildlife Management Areas.

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