Wildlife In Gardens: Protecting Endangered Animals In The Garden

Wildlife In Gardens: Protecting Endangered Animals In The Garden

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By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Gardening for endangered wildlife is a great way to bring purpose to your favorite hobby. You already enjoy creating beautiful outdoor spaces and working in the dirt with plants, so why not make it altruistic? There are things you can do, and ways to plan your garden, that support wildlife in your area.

Supporting Wildlife in Gardens

A wildlife friendly garden is a great way to start supporting wildlife and helping to protect local species, both endangered and healthy populations. Here are some things you can do:

  • Include plants that attract your local pollinators including birds, butterflies, bees, and bats.
  • Pull out invasive plants on your property. Your local extension office can tell you what to look for and remove.
  • Keep a brush pile in one corner of the yard. This will provide habitat and shelter for countless species.
  • Provide more structured shelter, like bat, bee, and bird houses or bug hotels.
  • Avoid pesticides and use natural strategies instead.
  • Replace turf grass with a native lawn.
  • Keep fertilizer to a minimum. Excess fertilizer washes into drains and harms river and lake animals.
  • Keep a source of water, like a bird bath, accessible to animals.
  • Check with the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program to find out all the elements you need to get your yard certified as a wildlife habitat.

Supporting Threatened Species of Plants and Animals

Any positive change that helps local species is great, but one of the most important things you can do to support your local wildlife and plants is to go native. Turn your garden into a native ecosystem, what the land would be like without human intervention. Depending on where you live this may mean embracing a woodland garden, a marsh, or a drought-tolerant desert garden.

By creating a native space, you not only include plants that are threatened, you make room for endangered animals in the garden. Any threatened or endangered species, from a small insect to a larger mammal, will benefit from having this space that meets their natural needs.

Check with your local extension office to find out what kind of plants are native to your area and with help planning. State and federal organizations, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can help too. There are programs, for instance, that help residents restore areas of their property to native wetlands and other ecosystems.

It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by environmental problems and to assume one person can’t make a difference. It is, however, possible to adapt your garden to support species. When more people take these steps, together it adds up to a big change.

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Read more about Beneficial Garden Friends

Let's put endangered plants in the spotlight

Demand for large specimens for landscaping projects means cycads like this one, the white-haired cycad (Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi) are threatened with extinction. Photograph: Martin Harvey/Getty Images

Demand for large specimens for landscaping projects means cycads like this one, the white-haired cycad (Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi) are threatened with extinction. Photograph: Martin Harvey/Getty Images

It’s time we started shouting about illegal sales of endangered plants: it’s just as barbaric as the ivory trade

Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 17.22 GMT

When you think of the illegal trade in endangered species what do you envisage? Rhino horn? Elephant tusks? Coral maybe?

The world’s media feeds us images of tiger skins, turtle shells, mounds of ivory being burned and rhinos shot and bloodied with their horns removed - it’s no wonder you think of these things.

When I think of this awful trade, I also think of cycads ripped from the ground with their fronds hacked off, being shipped to their new homes in the gardens of the rich. I see boxes and boxes of cacti confiscated by customs and destined to die through ill-treatment on the part of the person that dug them from their Mexican home. I see orchids torn from the trees on which they grew and sold on internet auction sites under the guise of plants legally grown.

I see living things subjected to the same level of barbarism as elephants and tigers, yet they don’t bleed, so for the wider world it seems like a lesser crime. This silent world of the illegal trade in endangered plants is huge, however. For many species the buck stops at the door of us gardeners.

It’s because of the demand for large specimens for landscaping projects that cycads are considered the most endangered living things on earth. Some species are down to fewer than 60 individuals and if you put every one of South Africa’s endangered Encephalartos cycads together, their number would be fewer by half than the number of white rhinos left in the wild.

Female cones of the holly leaf cycad, Encephalartos ferox. Photograph: Ben Ram

Cycads and cacti alike fall foul of the human need to collect. This “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality pushes those with this competitive desire to systematically tick species off a list until they complete the whole set, whatever the cost.

And where orchids in the past would have fetched high prices (the rarest still do), now, with the advent of the internet, they can easily be traded internationally. They have become comparatively cheap, but can carry with them pests and diseases that would not be found in plants propagated legally.

Encephalartos horridus, the Eastern Cape blue cycad. Photograph: Ben Ram

Orchids, cycads and cacti are the attention grabbers when it comes to the illegal international trade in endangered plants. Cyclamen, snowdrops, tree ferns and many carnivorous plants bear the brunt of the trade and are listed on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix 1 or 2. Plants such as Podophyllum hexandrum, a species becoming more popular as a garden plant, and monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) are there too. The list is huge, yet also overlooked by all but those directly involved in trying to combat the trade.

This week sees the start of the world wildlife conference in Johannesburg (CITES Conference of the Parties 17 – CoP17). Plants are certainly on the agenda, but it will still be sharks and tigers, coral and elephants that grab all the attention in a world beset by plant blindness. So it’s up to us gardeners to make sure the illegal trade in endangered plants doesn’t get swept under the carpet. There are reputable nurseries selling CITES species completely legally, with all the relevant documentation, so why go to the black market for them?

Buying just one orchid illegally on the internet from Indonesia or a few snowdrops dug from the wild in Bulgaria fans the flames of a trade that has dire consequences for the world’s plant life. Buying one of these plants is exactly the same as buying a carved piece of ivory, a tiger skin or a gram of ground rhino horn. Wouldn’t you think twice about doing that?

  • Robbie Blackhall-Miles is a plantsman and conservationist. Fossil Plants, his backyard botanic garden, houses a collection of early evolutionary plants. He tweets as @fossilplants.

Threatened and Endangered Plants

Protecting Florida's native plants

Florida false rosemary (Conradina etonia), unknown to science until the 1990s,
occurs in small populations in a few scrub habitats in Putnam County.
Florida Museum of Natural History.

Most of us are aware of the plight of Florida’s threatened and endangered animals, like manatees and panthers. But did you know that hundreds of our native plants are also in danger of extinction?

Anyone who has read "The Orchid Thief" will understand the seductive power of rare plants. In the book, the lead character is obsessed with finding the elusive ghost orchid that's native to the Everglades. Not all native plants are as endangered as the ghost orchid, though Florida does have more endangered plants than any state except California.

Rapid development and invasive exotics threaten many of the state’s diverse and unique plants. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services keeps a list of these species, which include natives like the ghost orchid, pitcher plant, and wild columbine.

You can help protect threatened and endangered species by being a responsible gardener. Don’t destroy wetlands on your property or introduce invasive exotics into your landscape. Consider taking part in an invasive plant clean-up to help make sure our native plants have a home.

Under Florida's Plant Protection Law, it's illegal to dig up or destroy any of the 600 plants on the regulated plant list, unless you have the appropriate permits and permissions. And even unprotected species can suffer when wild populations are overcollected.

So if you're interested in growing native plants in your landscape, don't remove them from the wild. Instead, purchase your plants from a reputable nursery or plant sale.

Summary of the Law

The ESA is primarily implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which maintains a list of endangered species in the U.S. and around the world, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, which focuses on marine species. These entities, in concert with federal agencies, are responsible for ensuring that authorized actions are consistent with the continued survival of listed species and the protection of their habitats.

Here are the major components — and mechanics — of the Endangered Species Act:

Determination of Endangered and Threatened Species

Anyone can petition the FWS to include a species on this list. That said, the decision to list a species as threatened or endangered must be based exclusively on its biological status and any threats to its survival. The determination is made — and action can be taken to protect a species — if one or more of five factors threaten its survival. This review must be based on the best available scientific information collected by scientists at the local, state, and national level.

The five factors that must be considered are:

  • Whether a large portion of the species’ vital habitat has been damaged or destroyed.
  • The extent to which a species has been overutilized for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
  • Whether the species is threatened by disease or predation.
  • The inadequacy of existing protection afforded by current regulations and legislation.
  • Any natural or human-made factors that might impact continued survival of the species.  

In addition to species that are ultimately listed as endangered or threatened, the ESA provides for a list of candidate species that is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). These candidate species include those that meet at least one of the consideration criteria, but that are of lower priority than other species.


Sections 6, 7, and 8 of the Endangered Species Act cover state cooperation, interagency cooperation, and international cooperation, respectively. Generally, the secretary of the Interior and the secretary of Commerce must make every effort to cooperate with individual states — to the extent practicable. More specifically, this should involve consulting with relevant states before acquiring land or water as a means of conservation for a threatened or endangered species.

Similarly, federal agencies must also consult with the secretary to make sure that any actions they’re considering won’t have a negative impact on a threatened or endangered species — or result in the destruction of, or damage to, its habitat. As with determinations under the Act, these consultations must be made with the help of the best commercial and scientific data possible.

Prohibited Acts

Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act lists the actions that are prohibited under the legislation.   Though there are some exceptions, the ESA generally prohibits importing, exporting, taking, possessing, selling, and transporting species that are designated as threatened or endangered. Taking is defined broadly to include harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting a listed species — or attempting to do so.


While prohibited activities under the ESA are extensive, they are subject to a number of exceptions for certain private activities. These exceptions are outlined in section 10 of the ESA, and mean that certain activities may be permitted through the FWS as long as they are consistent with conservation of the species in question. These are the three major permits issued by the FWS Ecological Services program:

  • Incidental take permit. This type of permit applies to non-federal entities that believe their activities may result in a take of an endangered or threatened species. For activities that are otherwise legal, an entity must submit an application for an incidental take permit, as well as a habitat conservation plan (HCP) that helps to minimize and mitigate the negative impacts of the activity.
  • Enhancement of survival permit. These permits are reserved for non-federal landowners that are currently engaged in Safe Harbor Agreements or Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. This type of permit enables and encourages landowners to take steps to protect a species with the understanding that they will not encounter further regulatory restrictions in response to those actions.
  • Recovery and interstate commerce permit. Intended to facilitate valuable efforts to research and better understand the needs of listed species, recovery and interstate commerce permits allow certain activities that would otherwise be deemed a take — like transporting and selling listed species across state lines.

Beyond the permitted exceptions above, the ESA’s prohibitions can be limited by exemptions approved by the Endangered Species Committee (ESC), also known as the "God Squad."Created by amendments to the ESA in the late 1970s, the ESC can exempt an agency from the need to evaluate potential actions, as is otherwise required under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, if certain determinations are made via a balancing test.  

Also provided for in section 10 of the ESA, an experimental population is a special designation that can be applied to listed species before they are reestablished in an unoccupied area of the species’ range, or in some cases, outside its historical range. This designation lets the FWS customize take prohibitions for experimental populations.

Penalties and Enforcement

Covered under section 11 of the Act, enforcement of the ESA is accomplished through a combination of citizen suits and civil and criminal penalties like imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture. First, any fish, wildlife or plants illegally taken, possessed, sold, or purchased under the Act may be confiscated. Penalties for a criminal violation may include imprisonment and a fine up to $50,000. In the case of a criminal conviction, the equipment and vehicles used in violation of the ESA can also be confiscated.

While civil violations don’t carry risk of imprisonment, violators may be subject to hefty fines. Violation of major provisions come with a $25,000 fine for knowing violations and a $12,000 fine for all other violations. Civil violations of minor provisions, permits, or regulations come with a $500 fine per violation.  

Supporting Threatened Species – Gardening For Endangered Wildlife - garden

Posted on 12 Mar 2020

13% of freshwater wetland species are threatened with extinction from Great Britain. It’s a sobering reflection of the state of the UK’s wetlands. So what can we do to prevent them disappearing forever?

At WWT, we take the view that single-species conservation can play an important role as part of a broader conservation strategy, as long as they clearly positively impact the wider ecosystem or environment (and often, humans too). Here we look closer at some of the most endangered wetlands species found in the UK and beyond, and what can be done to help them. These species are not necessarily listed on the IUCN Red List as officially 'Endangered' (more on how the IUCN Red List works here) but they are considered by many to be extremely concerning. And by focusing on what we can do for these particular species, we hope to create a healthier ecosystem and biodiversity of species in wetlands and beyond.

Nearly 35% of the world's wetlands were lost between 1970 and 2015 - 2018 Ramsar report

1. Curlew (Scientific name: Numenius arquata)

The curlew is the largest European wading bird, instantly recognisable by its long, down curved bill, mottled brown and grey plumage, long legs and haunting ‘cur-lee’ call.

Although the UK is home to a quarter of the global breeding population of curlews, the numbers fell by 64% from 1970 to 2014. Food scarcity, predation and changes in farming practices are all contributing to the decline.

Conservation status

The curlew was added to the UK red list in in December 2015, and it is argued to be the most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK.

How we can help them

We’ve rescued threatened curlew eggs across the country, hatched and reared them, and then released them in a process known as headstarting. We’re also researching long term solutions to stop the population crash – something that won’t just benefit the curlew, but the whole ecosystem.

2. Water vole (Scientific name: Arvicola amphibious)

This much-loved British mammal lives in the banks of rivers and wetlands or in small nests in fens and reedbed. Sometimes they’re called ‘water rats’ but actually there is no such thing there are brown rats that swim, but these are a different species. Read our guide to telling the difference for more information about how to spot water voles in the wild.

Now the water vole faces an uncertain future, having experienced the fastest decline of any native UK mammal in the 20th century. Habitat loss and predation by non-native American mink are mainly to blame. They’re estimated to have been lost from 94% of places they one lived – a staggering number. However, there's not really enough data

Conservation status

They are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

How we can help them

We carefully manage the ditches on our reserves, getting support from the Internal Drainage Boards – the public bodies responsible for maintaining the ditch systems in wetter parts of the UK. Their help in sensitively clearing ditches combined with our planting and management has reaped some great results. At Slimbridge, the amount of ditches used by water voles went up from just 250m to over 15 kilometres in just four years! There are also large populations of water vole reported at Arundel and Steart.

3. Natterjack toad (Scientific name: Epidalea calamita)

The rare natterjack toad gets its name from the loud rasping call made by males in the spring. To attract a female, the males sing together at night, making such a chorus that their calls have been heard up to a mile away.

Smaller than the common toad, the natterjack has a distinguishing yellow stripe running down its back and walks on short legs, rather than hop. Unfortunately, due mainly to habitation loss, it is now only found in a few coastal areas in England and Scotland, where it prefers shallow seasonally flooded pools on sand dunes, heaths and marshes.

Conservation status

They are a priority species in the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework and are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

How we can help them

Natterjack toads are present at our Caerlaverock reserve. They use temporary ponds on both saltmarshes and inland pools. The numbers of natterjack toads have seriously declined at Caerlaverock in the last few years and we have increased our surveys and monitoring efforts to try and establish the cause.

4. Spoon-billed sandpiper (Scientific name: Calidris pygmaea)

The spoon-billed sandpiper is perilously close to extinction. Its numbers recently plummeted to fewer than 200 pairs worldwide.

This adorable, small and very rare migratory bird – or “spoonie” as it is affectionately known – has a beak the shape of a spoon and a red-brown head, neck and breast.

It spends the winter on the vast wetlands of South Asia, making incredible migrations across the continent to its breeding grounds on the Russian tundra.

Conservation status

They are listed as Critically Endangered on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

How we can help them

We’ve been working alongside a wide range of people and organisations to halt the decline of the spoonie. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Project is truly international and collaborative in effort, involving conservation breeding, headstarting and satellite tracking. But their fate still hangs in the balance.

5. European eel (Scientific name: Anguilla Anguilla)

The European eel is a curious and fascinating creature. It undertakes an incredibly daunting migration as a young ‘glass’ eel, drifting on the currents from the Sargasso sea in the Caribbean to the colder estuaries of northern Europe.

A suite of threats is implicated in the eels’ demise – weirs and dams, hydropower and water-pumping stations could be blocking their migration pathways from the sea into the freshwater catchments where they grow and mature overfishing, pesticides and parasites are believed to be part of the problem and climate change may be shifting the track of the Gulf Stream so that fewer glass eels are hitching a trans-Atlantic ride.

Conservation status

They are listed as Critically Endangered on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

How we can help them

We're making routes into our reserves as eel-friendly as possible, including installing 'eel passes' to help the glass eels on their journey, and cameras to learn more. We're also conducting research to learn more about what happens during the eels' long lives, and how they use freshwater habitats.

6. Marsh fritillary butterfly (Scientific name: Euphydryas aurinia)

It is one of the most brightly coloured of all the fritillaries butterflies found in Britain, but its fate now hangs in the balance.

With a striking chequered pattern of orange, brown and yellow markings on its wings, the Marsh fritillary gets its common name from the marshy, damp wetlands and grasslands where it makes its home.

Once widespread throughout Britain, its populations plummeted in the 20th century due to habitat loss and fragmentation and it is now restricted to parts of southern England and Wales, the west coast of Scotland and a few sites in Ireland.

Conservation status

They are a priority species in the UK and are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

How we can help them

We’re investigating trialling the reintroduction of the Marsh fritillary at one of our wetland reserves in the UK to help combat the effects of habitat fragmentation.

7. Common crane (Scientific name: Grus grus)

Common cranes were wiped out from Britain 400 years ago after being hunted to extinction for food. Combined with a loss of their natural wetland habitat, the birds were gone from Britain by 1600.

Conservation status

Thankfully, we have helped secure the future of the common crane as a British breeding bird. But because its breeding population is so small, the crane is on the UK Amber conservation list for birds.

How we can help them

WWT (along with partner organisations) came up with the concept to take crane eggs from Europe (where cranes number in their tens of thousands) and bring them to the UK to hatch and rear in safety before releasing them into the wild.

As a result of the Great Crane Project, 93 young cranes were released into at a secret location in the Somerset Levels and Moors over five years. The cranes adapted to life in the wild more successfully that anyone predicted and the latest reports reveal a record of 54 pairs of cranes across the UK in 2019, with the total population coming in around 180 birds.

The UK crane population has now reached its highest level in over 400 years!

8. White clawed freshwater crayfish (Scientific name: Austropotamobius pallipes)

The white-clawed crayfish is a freshwater, brown-coloured invertebrate, similar to a lobster. It has cream undersides to its claws - hence the name. It’s found throughout the UK in freshwater streams where it hides under stones and feeds on water plants, small water invertebrates and dead organic matter.

Conservation status

White-clawed crayfish are endangered in the UK due to the introduction of the invasive signal crayfish which carries a disease that affects our white-clawed crayfish. They are also threatened by water pollution and loss of natural habitat.

How we can help them

In November 2018 WWT Slimbridge received a female white-clawed crayfish from Bristol Zoo who was already carrying eggs on her underside. The eggs successfully hatched in June 2018.

9. Madagascar pochard (Scientific name: Aythya innotata)

When it wasn't seen for 15 years, the Madagascar pochard was believed to have been wiped out completely. Then a tiny group of the birds was rediscovered in 2006 at one remote lake in the north of Madagascar.

Conservation status

They were listed as ‘Possibly Extinct’ on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species following rediscovery they are now listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.

How we can help them

WWT experts quickly set up an emergency conservation breeding programme and it’s been so successful, the captive population has effectively quadrupled the world population.

We used the world’s first floating aviaries to release 21 captive-bred Madagascar pochards onto Lake Sofia in Madagascar in 2018 as part of a decades spanning project. We’re now monitoring their progress as they become accustomed to their new surroundings - and in early 2020, the ducklings had ducklings!

10. Tadpole shrimp (Scientific name: Triops cancriformis)

The tadpole shrimp has existed virtually unchanged for over 200 million years. But in the UK only a single population – in a single pond - was known to remain until it was discovered at the WWT Caerlaverock reserve in 2004.

Conservation status

Triops are considered threatened in the UK as they have been recorded at very few sites. On a wider scale, we’ve seen a decline across Europe, although more data is needed.

How we can help them

We’re continuing to survey and improve the management of temporary pools on our Caerlaverock reserve, for example encouraging small amounts of cattle to disperse the eggs naturally in their hooves. Field workers are now searching for other populations across the UK. We’ve also hatched triops in captivity to study their somewhat mysterious lifecycle further.

Help our most threatened species

You can help bring wetlands species back from the brink by becoming a member of WWT. Together we can protect the wetland habitats that many endangered species rely on. You’ll also get free access all year to explore our wetland sites around the UK.

Endangered-species decision expected on beloved butterfly

Trump administration officials are expected to say this week whether the monarch butterfly, a colorful and familiar backyard visitor now caught in a global extinction crisis, should receive federal designation as a threatened species.

Stepped-up use of farm herbicides, climate change and destruction of milkweed plants on which they depend have caused a massive decline of the orange-and-black butterflies, which long have flitted over meadows, gardens and wetlands across the U.S.

The drop-off that started in the mid-1990s has spurred a preservation campaign involving schoolchildren, homeowners and landowners, conservation groups, governments and businesses.

Some contend those efforts are enough to save the monarch without federal regulation. But environmental groups say protection under the Endangered Species Act is essential — particularly for populations in the West, where last year fewer than 30,000 remained of the millions that spent winters in California’s coastal groves during the 1980s.

This year’s count, though not yet official, is expected to show only about 2,000 there, said Sarina Jepsen, director of the endangered species program at the Xerces Society conservation group.

“We may be witnessing the collapse of the of the monarch population in the West,” Jepsen said.

Scientists separately estimate up to an 80% monarch decline since the mid-1990s in the eastern U.S., although numbers there have shown a recent uptick.

The Trump administration has rolled back protections for endangered and threatened species in its push for deregulation, even as the United Nations says 1 million species — one of every eight on Earth — face extinction because of climate change, development and other human causes.

Under a court agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must respond by Tuesday to a 2014 petition from conservation groups on behalf of the monarch.

The agency could propose or decline to list the butterfly as threatened, which means likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or much of its range. Or it could find that a such listing is deserved but other species have a higher priority, which might delay action indefinitely.

A recommendation to designate the butterfly as threatened would be followed by a yearlong period to take public comment and reach a final decision.

Listing it “would guarantee that the monarch would get a comprehensive recovery plan and ongoing funding,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The monarch is so threatened that this is the only prudent thing to do.”

If the status is granted, federal agencies would have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about potential harm to monarchs from actions proposed for government funding or permitting, such as expanding interstate highways. The service would prescribe other measures in a regulation tailored specifically for the butterfly.

Orley “Chip” Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas, agreed the butterfly’s long-term prognosis is grim but said he opposes a federal listing for now, fearing it would sour many rural residents on helping the monarch.

“There’s a palpable fear of regulation out there,” he said, adding that voluntary measures should be given additional time.

Monarchs in southern Canada and the eastern U.S. migrate by the millions to mountainous areas of Mexico each winter, while those west of the continental divide head to coastal California. They congregate so thickly in forests that scientists can estimate their numbers through aerial inspections of trees with an orange hue.

Worsening droughts are reducing the number that survive the journey south for winter, Taylor said, while rising temperatures prompt the butterflies to leave their wintering grounds too soon, damaging reproduction. As the forests dry out, wildfire risk worsens.

If habitat losses and climate change aren’t slowed, “we aren’t going to have a monarch migration in 30 years,” Taylor said.

Environmental groups say 165 million acres (67 million hectares) of monarch habitat — an area the size of Texas — have been lost in the past 20 years to development or herbicide applications in cropland. They point to heavy farm use of Round Up, or glyphosate, in particular.

Genetically modified corn and soybeans can withstand the poisons, but they wipe out milkweed, on which the butterflies lay their eggs. Caterpillars feed only on milkweed leaves, while adults eat nectar from their flowers and pollinate the plants.

Federal protection for the monarch would draw stiff resistance from agriculture groups concerned that habitat protection rules might interfere with farm operations.

Milkweed can reduce crop yields and sicken livestock that eat it, “so farmers have spent decades trying to get rid of it,” said Laura Campbell of the Michigan Farm Bureau, which has participated in a statewide monarch recovery program. “It’s a hard sell to tell farmers, ‘Hey, you need to start planting milkweed again.’”

Some farmers and ranchers have planted milkweed on lands set aside for conservation. Numerous organizations and individuals are working to restore monarch habitat, focusing on backyard gardens as well as highway and utility corridors.

“But a lot is happening that’s taking away habitat at the same time,” said Karen Oberhauser, a restoration ecologist and arboretum director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “It’s like we’re running fast but staying in the same place.”

Twenty-five years ago, the 6-year-old son of a chemist named Jim Edward just happened to catch a monarch tagged by Oberhauser’s researchers, when the butterfly wandered into Edward’s yard in Minnesota.

Since then, captivated by the butterfly and its complex migration over generations, Edward has raised monarchs to tell and show hundreds of school groups about the unending migrations.

“Just the exposure of kids to that, that don’t necessarily get to see” wildlife otherwise, he said. “Their enthusiasm, their joy, their ‘oh, wowness’ — to see that.”

Some enthusiasts fear they could no longer harvest eggs and raise monarchs if the species gains federal protections. Curry said her group has recommended that careful, small-scale, noncommercial raising be allowed.

Sheila Naylor, a substitute teacher near Sedalia, Mo., says the chance discovery of a milkweed plant in her yard five years ago inspired a quest to grow the monarch’s host plant in every available inch of yard and roadside.

She visits the Missouri state fair, schools and elder care homes, pleading the case for preserving monarch and other native butterflies.

“I push myself,” Naylor said, “because the butterflies keep me going.”

Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan. Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City.

Watch the video: Conserving the worlds endangered plants at Kew Gardens