The Importance of Butterfly Habitat to Hunters

The Importance of Butterfly Habitat to Hunters
April 12, 2021

By Marc Gray, Sustainable Monarch

One of the latest concerns from the avian world is the marked decline of the bobwhite quail. Loss of native prairie and intensive farming practices has eliminated the “odd areas” quail rely on. Quail were able to adapt for a time, benefitting from hedgerows while prairie chickens lost out; although they held on while farms were small. Quail are suffering significantly from the conversion of hayfields and pasture to fescue coupled with the bulldozing of hedgerows. In the East, the opposite is the case – too many trees. When resident game bird enthusiasts decry roadside mowing or fund projects to create brood habitat, they are promoting butterflies. Waterfowl nest in the upland grasslands used by butterflies too. What are young birds eating in those forest openings touted by the ruffed grouse hunter? Insects. 

Monarchs have declined 90% over the last 20 years. Since the 1980’s, butterflies across the board have declined by half. This is directly linked to the loss of grasslands. 

It will take innovative approaches to drive sound stewardship from now on and butterflies offer a model for a common language and mutual goals. Tracking butterfly occurrence and trends can give us a standard benchmark from which we can tailor management recommendations at multiple scales. Monarchs have declined 90% over the last 20 years. Since the 1980’s, butterflies across the board have declined by half. This is directly linked to the loss of grasslands. The closed-canopy forests of 60-80 year old trees that cover much of the area East of the Mississippi outside of neighborhoods and shopping centers are poor wildlife habitat. Deer require browse with sufficient nutrients to aid reproduction and antler growth. Nature’s food plots are clearings in the forest where lush growth supports herds. The loss of grasslands from New England to Florida is staggering. While the core of the Monarch breeding range is centered over the modern Corn Belt, I argue that the breeding range has shifted west over time as the disturbance that comes with having land in production went away. Extirpation of large mammals, namely bison and elk have removed major drivers of ecological function from the landscape. Butterflies are the canary in the coal mine for landscape-level impacts to the entire ecosystem. As the butterflies go, so goes other wildlife.

With partners, Sustainable Monarch proposes creation of Sustainable Monarch Reserves to develop a series of protected sites with the intention of restoring ecological processes that these butterflies evolved with. The idea is to secure funding to create areas managed specifically for butterflies through a combination of conservation easements, cooperative agreements, accepting property donations and eventual fee title purchases. We are launching what, to our knowledge, is the first land trust dedicated to butterflies. The reserve effort will facilitate work on economic incentives from market-based solutions where local businesses and communities benefit from maintaining native plants on the landscape. The added value of creating products and jobs surrounding harvest of milkweed to create new milkweed patches, clothing, cosmetics and other items is a novel approach that compliments other initiatives by providing longer-term conservation than what is currently available on a large scale. Sustainable Monarch Reserves will serve as the anchor that other stewardship activities can be planned around to improve connectivity & create a dynamic ecosystem that gives monarchs the ability to move across the landscape within preserved corridors. Game species will come along for the ride because they must move across the landscape too and so many plants that they eat are pollinated by bees that benefit from plantings to encourage butterflies. Butterflies are a convenient measure of what is happening in the field. The critter of interest is not as important as the vegetative condition on the ground. 

To learn more about Sustainable Monarch, visit their website at SustainableMonarch.org

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