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Monarch butterflies lingering in Georgia; volunteers sought to help monitor them

A monarch butterfly. (File/Photo courtesy of Christa Hayes, Hayes Environmental Concepts.)

By David Pendered

Monarch Migration 2021 should be about over in Georgia. It’s not. This has prompted butterfly specialists to ask citizen scientists for help.

Susan Meyers wrote in an email Wednesday that monarch butterflies continue to be sighted in Georgia. By now, the insects should have departed for their wintering grounds in Mexico, according to Meyers, a volunteer co-chair of Monarchs Across Georgia.

Over the decades, monarchs have kept a travel schedule that passes through metro Atlanta from Sept. 29 through Oct. 11. They embark from points north, including Scarborough, Maine, and fly some 2,500 miles toward their destination in central Mexico.

Meyers wrote that she wonders if monarchs will be staying in the state, rather than migrating elsewhere. They may remain to avoid the long trip to Mexico, in a procedure named “overwintering.” Another question is whether monarchs that remain may be breeding while staying stateside.

Georgia isn’t alone in hosting monarchs that stay longer than expected and engage in unknown activities.

On Thursday, Georgia wildlife officials issued a plea for help in monitoring the monarch butterflies in Georgia. Peach State volunteers are asked to join volunteers counting monarchs in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Information on how to volunteer is at the end of this story.

Last winter, volunteers reported more than 5,800 observations of monarch butterflies in southern states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services monitored overwintering habits as part of an investigation that determined monarchs are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. In a December 2020 report, then FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith issued a comment and requested help from volunteers.

“We conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act. However, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions, the comment read. “While this work goes on, we are committed to our ongoing efforts with partners to conserve the monarch and its habitat at the local, regional and national levels. Our conservation goal is to improve monarch populations, and we encourage everyone to join the effort.”

On Monday, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced a grant that is to generate a total of almost $5.1 million for efforts to conserve monarchs and other insect pollinators. NFWF provided $1.9 million in a total of 11 grants in nine states in the Midwest and West. Matching funds are to generate an additional $3.2 million.

The states where entities received funding are California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In total, the program was open in 27 states to agencies including non-profits, governments and educational institutions. Georgia was not eligible to apply for funding.

The Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Conservation Fund program intends to improve the habitat for native pollinators including monarch butterflies and rusty patched bumble bees. Two-thirds of the funding was to improve habitat and the remainder is intended to help private landowners develop conservation programs on their property, according to the request for proposals.

Funders represent the private sector and government agencies. The entities include Bayer Crop Science, BNSF Railway, Shell Oil Co., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to a statement.

Note to readers: To volunteer to monitor monarch butterflies, click here to register for a free account with Journey North, one of the largest citizen scientist organizations in the United States and an affiliate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. More information on how to report sightings and submit observations is available here and here.

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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