A triple crown of monarch butterflies look for nectar at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in 2018. Biddeford City Council has recently approved the “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge,” to support efforts to boost monarch populations in the face of declines. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Many a pretty picture has been made of delicate, colorful monarch butterflies fluttering from flower to flower, drinking nectar and pollinating plants as they go.

But the attractive orange and black butterflies are in decline, according to the National Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And Biddeford has pledged to take efforts to combat the decrease.

The National Wildlife Federation says the monarch population has declined by 90 percent since the 1990s due to the loss of grassland, use of pesticides and herbicides, and changing migration timing due to climate change.

In its research, the USFWS has found that monarch numbers in the eastern population fell from more than 384 million monarchs — about 45 acres of them, in 1996 to fewer than 60 million monarchs, or about 7.5 acres — in 2019. Numbers dipped to low of about 14 million in 2013. The agency announced in December that listing the monarch as endangered or threatened was warranted, but didn’t, because other species had a higher priority at a time when the agency doesn’t have the resources to do more. The USNFWS will review the monarch statute annually as a candidate for listing.

Now, the city of Biddeford has agreed to do its part to try and help boost numbers. On April 30, the City Council voted its support of the National Wildlife Federation’s “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge” to create habitat for the monarch butterfly and pollinators and to educate residents about how they can make a difference at home and in their community.

“The Biddeford Community Garden group wants to be able to plant natural flowers and plants attractive to butterflies and do an educational (piece),” Mayor Alan Casavant told councilors.

In response to concerns voiced about diverting staff from other projects, Casavant said volunteers would be taking on the tasks involved.

“With parks, maintaining the habitat may be all we need,” said Casavant. “I’m not looking for money or staffing at all.”

“It’s nice to see a pledge that isn’t just words and no actions around it,” said Councilor Norman Belanger. “I just want to make sure we are in a position to commit to the action items.”

The vote approving the pledge was unanimous.

Working to boost monarch populations is a step others have been taking too, whether by signing on to the NWF pledge, or working with entities like Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells.

Through efforts initiated by RCNWR in 2019, some businesses do their mowing around the milkweed growing cycle — monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves — choosing to mow early in the spring and then later in the year, so as to give milkweed time to grow, said Rachel Stearns, a biological technician with the refuge in a prior interview.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge program launched in 2015 to engage cities and communities in monarch and pollinator conservation. Between 2015 and 2020, the NWF said, the program welcomed over 600 mayors and heads of local and tribal governments, who engaged six million people and restored more than 6,500 acres of monarch habitat. The pledge program has extended to Canada and Mexico.

Some efforts include an ordinance amendment approved by city councilors in Minnetonka, Minnesota, that mandates developers use at least 25 percent native plants and cultivars, the NWF said. And in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, the community implemented a seed library program where residents collect and donate seeds to other residents, free of charge.

Besides municipal efforts, individuals can help by encouraging milkweed growth and nectar producing plants.

According to the NWF, the population east of the Rocky Mountains contains the majority of the North American monarchs, who make their way from Mexico annually.

More information about Biddeford’s efforts to support monarch butterflies is expected to be forthcoming,

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