Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Milkweed for monarchs

ARIZONA—Did you know that milkweed is the only host plant for monarch caterpillars? The latest Western Monarch Count revealed an average decrease of 46% between the counts in Thanksgiving 2019 and New Year’s 2020. The number of monarchs counted in the western states represents less than 1% of the population estimates from the 1980s.

To help address that downturn, the Forest Service is working with tribal monitors to create milkweed habitat for these endangered butterflies.

Arizona rarely sees large numbers of monarchs, but the state’s warm temperatures and presence of native milkweed species make it an essential area for monarch butterflies. The Milkweed for Monarchs project is a partnership between the Tonto National Forest Tribal Monitor Program, The Nature Conservancy, WestLand Resources, Inc. and Resolution Copper Mine LLS to improve habitat for the monarch butterfly in Arizona.

Tribal monitors study a milkweed habitat.
The Forest Service is working with tribal monitors to create milkweed habitat for endangered monarch butterflies. Photo courtesy Daniel McNair.

In 2019 tribal monitors began planting native milkweed plants on a conservation property managed by The Nature Conservancy near Mammoth, Arizona. Arizona milkweed, Asclepias angustifolia, and western whorled milkweed, Asclepias subverticillata, were planted in areas that had been disturbed by agriculture and showed the most promise for success.

Projects like this are a natural fit for the Tribal Monitor Program. Selwyn Salina, a tribal monitor from the Hopi Tribe, shared, “Our people believe we are responsible for the health and protection of this planet.” That’s a belief shared by many tribes of the southwest. This belief refers to sacred sites, to springs, to animals and even to butterflies and bees.

That sentiment echoes the agency’s mission, and it’s a belief the agency hopes to share with the public through programs and partnerships like this one.