‘Monarchs are in big trouble’: Butterflies being listed endangered internationally a call to action for local conservation, expert says

MADISON, Wis. — The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the iconic monarch butterfly as an endangered species this month. With Wisconsin being so important to the monarch’s lifecycle, experts said it’s even more important we do our part to keep them alive. 

While the IUCN’s label doesn’t mean monarchs are endangered in the U.S. yet, “Monarchs are in big trouble, and this is a really great call for action for all of us to do something to help them now,” said Brenna Marsicek.  

Marsicek is the director of communications and outreach for the nonprofit conservation group Madison Audubon. “Over the last 50 years, some of [monarchs’] populations have declined by upwards of 90%.”  

Even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service follows different protocols for classifying endangered species, Marsicek knew it meant conservation had to be kicked into overdrive here.   

“The Endangered Species Act is a really great thing, but it’s better for a species not to get onto it in the first place,” she said.  

RELATED: Beloved monarch butterflies now listed as ‘endangered’ by international group

One easy way Wisconsinites can help is to plant milkweed wherever possible. It’s the only species monarchs lay eggs on and that the caterpillars eat.  

“They are not as abundant as they used to be because oftentimes milkweed (is) found in prairies or wetlands or other habitats that we just have a lot less of now because of changes in land use,” Marsicek said.  

Native nectar plants like goldenrods and cornflowers also attract monarchs

While Madison Audubon primarily focuses on bird conservation, part of its work is restoring the more than 2,000 acres of habitat it owns in Wisconsin. 

“Wisconsin is a really important place for monarch butterflies because this is part of their central breeding grounds for this eastern population of monarchs,” Marsicek said.  

They also offer another way to get nose-to-antenna with the insects – monarch tagging. 

“That involves catching monarchs in a net, safely pulling them out, placing a tiny sticker on a specific spot on their wing so it doesn’t throw off their flight pattern at all,” said Marsicek.  

Tagging takes place in the first part of September and allows them to track which butterflies make it through the migration to roost in Mexico.  

“It sort of gives people the monarch bug; you know, you see one so close up and it becomes personal for you,” she said. 

Being surrounded by thousands of monarchs one fall and sometimes hundreds the next can also open eyes, according to Marsicek. “It becomes harder and harder to hear about them in decline and on the same token it makes it even easier to feel committed to do something about it.”   

She hopes people connecting with monarchs will keep the insects on local plants and off the endangered species list in the U.S.  

“There’s this very public display of this species is endangered and it needs help, and here we are, we can do something about it, so let’s,” she said. “We can, it’s in our wheelhouse, we have the resources, we have the technology, we can do something about it so why would we not?”