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Oklahoma Tribes Collaborate to Protect Monarch Butterflies

Seven Oklahoma tribes are collaborating to help create habitat for the monarch butterfly during its annual migration from Canada to Mexico.
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The Citizen Potawatomi, Chickasaw and five other tribes in Oklahoma are using grant money to create and enhance monarch butterfly habitat, in conjunction with two other groups dedicated to saving the species.

The seven tribes announced the collaboration earlier this month, but several of them have been planting milkweed and other monarch-friendly plants for years. On this project they are working with the Monarch Watch program out of the University of Kansas and the Euchee Butterfly Farm in Oklahoma on a collaboration funded by a $248,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that was matched by a number of other donors for a total of $527,154. The other participating tribes are the Eastern Shawnee, Miami Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Osage Nation and Seminole Tribe, according to Native Times. They plan to plant a total of 5,000 milkweed plants on tribal lands over the next two years, Native Times reported.

For more than 10,000 years, monarch butterflies have been migrating annually as many as 3,000 miles between north and south Turtle Island. Along the way they need places to rest, breed and eat, and the milkweed they normally deposit eggs on—it’s what the larvae consume—has been decimated by herbicides. The monarchs’ numbers have plummeted from one billion to fewer than 60 million, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which awarded the grant. Restoring habitat is critical to helping the butterfly rebound.

“The project will provide the training needed to plant donated milkweed plugs, to collect, process, store, and propagate seeds of milkweeds and native forbs, and will include the establishment of seed production plots, creation of demonstration plots and the development of conservation plans, including site selection and preparation, as well as long term maintenance of restored properties,” said the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in its grant announcement.

Tribes in Oklahoma especially are in an ideal location to help, and the efforts dovetail with what many are already doing as environmental stewards.

"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," said Thalia Miller, director of the Chickasaw Nation Horticulture Department, at a press conference on May 10, according to Reuters.

“Chickasaw Country on I-35 is located in a critical position along the migration path, which provides a one-of-a-kind experience to see the monarchs as they rest here during their migration season,” the Chickasaw Nation said in a November 2015 statement.

“The tribes of Oklahoma can make a huge difference by shifting some of their land management practices to attract the butterflies by planting patches of lost milkweed from the lands,” said Carol Crouch, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Conservation Service officer, at a training session on habitat restoration hosted by the Citizen Potawatomi in March. “The huge representation of the tribes at this workshop demonstrated that the tribes of Oklahoma want to make a difference.”

Earlier this year the Potawatomi announced the creation of a monarch butterfly refuge during a garden workshop at which Jane Breckenridge, owner of the Euchee Butterfly Farm, was a speaker.

“If you look at a tribal jurisdiction map of Oklahoma you can see that nearly all of the monarch’s migration in critical condition falls within tribal boundaries,” said Breckenridge, according to a statement from the Potawatomi. “We haven’t seen any interest about this come from the leadership of the state of Oklahoma. However, I knew all along to save the monarchs and other endangered pollinators that this effort needs to come from the tribes.”