The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups launched a $3.2 million campaign on Monday to save the habitat of the embattled orange-and-black spotted monarch butterfly, whose numbers have plummeted in recent years.
The monarchs, renowned for migrating thousands of miles over many generations from Mexico, across the United States to Canada, and then back again, have seen a loss in their habitat because of farming and urban sprawl.
The population of monarch butterflies, which peaked in the late 1990s at roughly 1 billion specimens, has fallen by 90 percent in recent years, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Known for its beautiful orange color, fascinating life cycle and remarkable annual migration, the monarch butterfly is the most iconic butterfly in North America,” Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who backs the effort, said in a statement.
The campaign led by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation includes a conservation fund dedicated to habitat restoration that will involve planting native milkweed and nectar plants, which the butterfly depends on for food and breeding.
The plants have been eradicated or severely degraded in many parts of the United States in recent years.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is putting up $2 million in addition to funds it previously allocated to monarch conservation efforts, including improving more than 200,000 acres (81,000 hectares) of habitat while supporting over 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens.
The Fish and Wildlife Service funding will go toward on-the-ground conservation projects stretching from California to the Midwest corn belt, with $1.2 million anchoring a grant distribution fund for farmers and other private landowners who preserve habitat, the first funding effort of its kind.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups last year urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which would allow greater protections for monarch habitat.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)