Nearly a billion butterflies have vanishedThreatened animals like elephants, porpoises and lions grab all the headlines, but what’s happening to monarch butterflies is nothing short of a massacre. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summed it up in just one grim statistic on Monday: Since 1990, about 970 million have vanished. It happened as farmers and homeowners sprayed herbicides on milkweed plants, which serve as the butterflies’ nursery, food source and home. In an attempt to counter two decades of destruction, the Fish and Wildlife Service launched a partnership with two private conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to basically grow milkweed like crazy in the hopes of saving the monarchs.  Monarch butterflies are a keystone species that once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions. They alighted from Mexico to Canada each spring on a trek that required six generations of the insect to complete. Afterward, young monarchs about the quarter of the weight of a dime, that know nothing about the flight pattern through the United States, not to mention Mexico, fly back, resting, birthing and dining on milkweed.

The extinction of certain butterfly species is not unheard of. The blueberry-colored Xerces blue disappeared from San Francisco years ago, and recently Fish and Wildlife announced that two subspecies — the rockland skipper and Zestos in South Florida — haven’t been seen since 2004 and are probably extinct. On top of that, pesticide use has also caused a collapse of other pollinators — wasps, beetles and especially honeybees. Fish and Wildlife is reviewing a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to list monarch butterflies as an endangered species that requires special protection to survive. The agency is studying whether that’s necessary and also trying to do more to help restore the population. The agency is providing $2 million for on the ground conservation projects. As part of an agreement, the federation will help raise awareness about the need for milkweed, provide seeds to anyone willing to plant it and to plant the seeds in open space — roadsides, parks, forests and patio flower boxes, to name a few places. Another $1.2 million will go to the foundation as seed money to generate a larger fundraising match from private organizations. More