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Are monarchs making a comeback? Maybe.

After hitting their lowest levels ever in 2013, a January survey of hibernating monarch butterflies in forest habitat in Mexico showed a 144 percent increase compared to the 2018 survey, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The survey found butterflies in 14.94 acres of forest, up from 6.12 in 2018, the biggest increase in 12 years.

Each fall, monarchs travel nearly 2,500 miles from the United States and Canada to spend the winter in Mexico, where it’s warmer and and they’re more likely to survive.

“They’re starting their migration right now,” says Brenda Dziedzic, a local butterfly expert and author.

Monarchs have faced dramatic habitat loss over the last decade. Climate change, forest degradation where monarchs hibernate and the conversion of grassland to farmland has all impacted monarchs, according to the Wildlife Fund.

But calls to plant more milkweed, the only plant monarchs lay their eggs on, have helped the species.

“All of us are spreading the news, telling people to plant milkweed,” says Dziedzic.

But there’s still work to be done, experts say. Even with this year’s increase, levels are nowhere near what they were at in 1996 when 45 acres were covered with over-wintering monarchs.

People need to be aware how important it is to save habitat not just for butterflies but pollinators like bees, said Dziedzic. 

"You’re never going to stop urban sprawl," she said. "You’re never going to stop the pesticides that people are using. (But) people don’t realize that we can’t eliminate that habitat."

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

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