W. Va. \u2014 The future of West Virginia\u2019s state butterfly, the monarch, is in danger. Populations have declined so much that it is at risk of being placed on the endangered species list \u2014 a move that could have regulatory and economic impacts for the state.\r\n\r\nAccording to WVU Extension Service Wildlife Specialist Sheldon Owen, most experts estimate that the Eastern population of monarchs has declined by 90 percent over the last 20 years. Not only does that mean there\u2019s less of this distinctively beautiful insect, but it also means that another pollinator and one of nature\u2019s most notable educational models is at risk.\r\n\r\nHowever, West Virginia has started paving a path for the monarch\u2019s comeback story, and it starts with agricultural producers, West Virginia\u2019s landowners, and a weed \u2014 milkweed to be exact.\r\n\r\n\u201cHistorically, the milkweed has sometimes been viewed as a nuisance for property owners and farmers around the state, but it\u2019s a bit of double-edged sword in that milkweed is also the only plant monarch caterpillars feed on,\u201d Owen said. \u201cBy making small changes in conservation practices, such as leaving milkweed patches or planting milkweed in marginal areas with native flowers, monarch caterpillars can thrive. Then when they metamorphose into butterflies, they will travel from patch to patch to take in nectar that fuels their migration.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile small changes like this can be impactful, Owen helped organize the state\u2019s inaugural West Virginia Monarch Summit in early March at WVU Jackson\u2019s Mill. The meeting started the wheels turning in creating a realistic monarch conservation plan with key members from West Virginia\u2019s industries, state and federal agencies and interest groups. Together they discussed and identified existing conservation efforts, while providing a venue for ideas and solutions that could benefit the monarch moving forward without adversely impacting agriculture or other industry.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Summit was a huge success \u2014 we brought together stakeholders who can promote conservation and increase the habitat for not only monarchs, but all our native pollinators,\u201d Owen said. \u201cWe saw what was already in place and then identified areas where we all can improve to truly make a difference.\u201d\r\n\r\nOwen noted that while this was the first comprehensive meeting, many surrounding states are also working on the problem. By working closely with those states in the future, he hopes to see a total resurgence in monarch populations through broad awareness and conservation.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe monarch\u2019s migration is really one of the more amazing stories in nature, and these butterflies can cover thousands of miles,\u201d said Owen. \u201cSo it\u2019s not only a West Virginia problem, but we can certainly take proactive steps and help lead and shape the efforts to save this butterfly.\u201d\r\n\r\nNo conservation effort is too small. Owen added that home gardeners can contribute by planting small patches of milkweed and native flowers like purple coneflower, giant sunflower and mountain mint.\r\n\r\n\u201cEvery little bit helps in a situation this serious,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nThe WVU Extension Service provides educational opportunities to local communities through offices in all 55 West Virginia counties. WVU Extension Service\u2019s programs are accomplished in partnership with individuals, families, businesses, civic groups and governmental organizations statewide and throughout the nation.