The North American monarch butterfly, that iconic orange-and-black milkweed butterfly, is famous for its multi-generational migration pattern. In autumn, monarch butterflies fly south from the northern United States and Canada to Florida, Baja, and the northern coasts of South America, where they breed. In spring, the second, third, and even fourth generation descendants of those migrants fly north again. Even monarchs bred in captivity seem to know the route, heading north or south depending on when and where they’re released.

Monarchs, like most butterflies, are nectivores, requiring large amounts of flowering plants to support their massive migrations. And habitat destruction along their ancient routes has disrupted their patterns, so that where once millions gathered together on the oyamel firs in Mexico, where they rest and mate, now far fewer fly. The monarch buttefly is on the verge of being declared an endangered species.

In a new public-private partnership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and 45 private parties including farmers, landowners, and energy companies will cooperate on conservation efforts to restore some of the vital corridors monarch butterflies use to migrate. Unused space along roadways, the verges of farms and developments, and under and around energy infrastructure will be repurposed as pollinator-friendly zones, with curated planting of local, monarch-friendly plants.

An estimated 2.3 million acres of land across 48 states may be involved in the agreement, according to FWS officials.

“Completing this agreement is a huge boost for the conservation of monarch butterflies and other pollinators on a landscape scale,” said Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. FWS, on the agency’s official website.

If the monarchs are declared endangered, this sort of habitat restoration may become mandatory, with far stricter guidelines. This partnership is a preemptive move on behalf of the private participants to keep those measures from becoming necessary.

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