Good News: New York and Rotary’s national work to protect Monarch butterflies

From left, Patti Cooper, Frank Coniglio and Robyn Elman. Credit: Karine Aigner, The New York Times

By Sophie Roback, Alliance Intern from Colorado College ‘24

Robyn Elman has been tirelessly fighting for years to help save Monarchs, an essential pollinator whose eastern migrating population has decreased by 80% in the past twenty years, according to a study from Environmental Research Letters. The Monarch population has been declining due to climate change and habitat loss from herbicide use and urban development according to the World Wildlife Fund. Through her persistent work, Elman convinced the city to protect around 20 milkweed patches so far along highways.

Elman joined efforts with Patti Cooper, another concerned citizen, to try and convince Coniglio, an employee of the Department of Transportation, to protect milkweed plants from the city’s lawn mowers, according to the NY Times. Coniglio was eventually won over by the diligent work of these women as he learned about the importance of milkweed and Monarch butterflies. During a visit to one of Elman’s usual sites, he commented, “What happens to the butterflies is going to happen to us right?” They show how a small team can make a difference.

Fortunately, their work is being amplified by the Rotary Club and numerous other groups. Rotary has created multiple programs dedicated to Monarch conservation, including Operation Pollination and the MOMA Hope Tour. At least 31 rotary clubs have carried out effective pollinator projects since 2015, working towards the same goals as Elman and Cooper to restore habitats and the Monarch population. 

Rotary began by restoring and enhancing 1,039 acres of land in the St. Croix Valley of MN and WI, as its website points out. It then worked with the National Park Service and created Operation Pollination, extending its work to National Heritage Areas (NHAs), large (often thousands of square miles), lived-in landscapes with nationally important stories to tell. The National Park Service administers the NHA program, but does not own or manage individual NHAs. That is the role for nonprofits. To date, 35 NHAs (of a total of 55) across the USA have expressed interest in joining the Operation Pollination project in every region of the Nation.

Experts set a goal of restoring more than 1.3 million stems of milkweed in the midwestern US, which would “require the participation from all sectors of society. Stein, who now oversees the National Park Service’s eight National Heritage Areas in the Midwest, agrees. ‘No project is too small,’ he says. ‘Someone planting one milkweed seed is good. If someone wants to go out and restore a prairie, that’s even better,’” according to the Rotary Club.

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