- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont may play an important role in the conservation of monarch butterflies, which are declining around the country, according to a biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Biologist Mark Ferguson says Vermont’s meadows and old fields provide habitat for milkweed, which is a critical food source for monarchs. He says in contrast, increasing levels of herbicide use in large-scale agriculture in the mid-West in appear to have greatly reduced the abundance of milkweed in that part of the country. Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed and the caterpillars feed on the plant.

According to Fish and Wildlife, most eastern monarchs spend the winter at a particular site in the mountains of central Mexico. Ferguson said as monarchs migrate north, they need to reproduce several times and need milkweed at each site to do that.

“A monarch that leaves its wintering grounds in Mexico will never make it to Vermont,” Ferguson said. “Instead, several generations are born and die along the way, meaning that the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the monarchs leaving Mexico eventually arrive in Vermont each summer. Because monarchs need milkweed to reproduce, anything we can do in Vermont to promote this vitally important species will help monarchs thrive.”

White House science adviser John Holdren said last month in a blog post that pollinators are struggling, based on a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. The number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico’s forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past 20 years, so the U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitat in the southern part of that country, he said.

A group of insecticides called neonicotinoids that are used on agricultural crops, and on home gardens, lawns and ornamental trees, may also threaten monarch conservation, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department said.

“Many of the best nectar plants are actually wildflowers that grow naturally and will provide monarchs with a good source of food if left uncut during the growing season,” Ferguson said.

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