monarch butterfly clings to a plant at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary
in Pacific Grove, California, December 30, 2014. REUTERS/Michael
SHAWNEE, OK Seven Native American tribes in Oklahoma will
provide habitat and food on their lands for monarch butterflies, whose
numbers have plummeted in recent years due to troubles along their
lengthy migration route.
Tribal leaders said at a news conference on Tuesday in Shawnee,
southeast of Oklahoma City, they will plant crucial vegetation for
the butterflies, including milkweed and native nectar-producing
plants, on their lands.
"For the last several years, we have been raising bees
and pollinators, so when his opportunity came along, it fit with
what we were doing," Thalia Miller, director of the Chickasaw
Nation Horticulture Department, told reporters.
The tribes will work with the University of Kansas Monarch
Watch program and the Euchee Butterfly Farm in Bixby, Oklahoma.
The project is supported by a grant of about $250,000 from the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Monarch butterfly numbers have plummeted over the years from
the expansion of farmland, sprawling housing developments and the
clear-cutting of natural landscapes along their migration path,
Monarchs lay eggs only on milkweed plants, which grow wild throughout
the United States. But milkweed, on which butterfly larvae feed,
can cause stomach problems for cattle that eat it, so ranchers and
farmers destroy the plant, researchers say.
The butterflies spend the winter in Mexico and then go through
several generations as they fly north, through Oklahoma, on their
long migration to Canada.
While an estimated 1 billion monarchs migrated in 1996, only
about 35 million made the trip in 2013, according to Marcus Kronforst,
a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago
who has studied monarchs.
Their numbers have rebounded in recent years but are still well
below what they were two decades ago.
"The tribes are natural leaders on this issue," said
Jane Breckinridge, project co-director and owner of the Euchee Butterfly
Farm, which breeds butterflies.
(Reporting by Heide Brandes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing
by Dan Grebler)