Originally published by the Staff at Pinelands Nursery here:


FORE!!! Monarchs In The Rough

The monarch butterfly has become one of the most well-known, and increasingly studied butterflies on the planet. Their token deep orange wings with black veins and borders are unmistakable! Their unique, yearly 2,500-mile migration from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico is incredible – unlike any other butterfly. Despite its popularity, the species now faces the risk of extinction. Threats to the monarch’s migration and survival include climate change, land conversion, pesticide use, and forest degradation. Monarchs in the Rough is a program created by Audubon International and the Environmental Defense Fund. The mission behind this program is to reverse habitat loss for the monarch, by creating vital breeding and migration grounds on golf courses. To do this, the program has enlisted the help of native seed vendors like Pinelands Nursery to secure regionally appropriate Milkweed seed and custom pollinator blends for areas spanning across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
According to Monarchs in the Rough, the monarch butterfly’s population has faced a 90% decline over the last 20 years. Research from the World Wildlife Fund shows that the area of forest occupied by monarch butterflies was 7 acres in the 2019-2020 wintering season, which is down from 15 acres in the previous 2018-2019 season. Meanwhile, golf courses have turned out to be the last remaining open space in many communities. In the human dominated landscape we live in, there is a great lack of diversity across much of the country. Because of this, the plants found in nature may not be the best for the precious native wildlife we care about. That being said, it is not just the monarch- other wildlife have been declining across the nation in a similar proportion. Protecting and creating native habitats on a large scale takes into consideration all organisms down to the smallest butterfly. When we create habitat for the monarch butterfly, we are also creating beneficial habitat for other insects, waterfowl, migratory birds, rare plants, and a wide range of other species. Monarch habitat can also be helpful to us as humans, by adding more areas for outdoor recreation such as hunting and wildlife observation.
Sending the correct seed was one of the most imperative objectives of the Monarchs in the Rough mission to create this habitat. Seed availability definitely has its limitations in some regions, and sourcing the proper ecotype and seed species proved to be hard work. The program strived to avoid the introduction of non-native plants, invasives, and species that will not survive certain regional conditions because of where they were sourced. “Pinelands Nursery was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring everything ran smoothly. They tapped into a continent-wide network of native plant vendors to fill orders for hundreds of projects. As the initiative expanded, we were able to build relationships with other nurseries that Pinelands facilitated like Minnesota Native Landscapes who was instrumental in designing local seed mixes in the Upper Midwest. I cannot overstate the importance of the work conducted by Pinelands for Monarchs in the Rough.” says Director of Conservation Initiatives at Audubon International, Marcus Gray.
This incredible program is funded by a $150,000 grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The USGA also provided $100,000 of matching funds. Originally, the grant was created for 10 states (Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin) but later the program was expanded by the NFWF to include Ohio and all states west of the Mississippi River. Monarchs in the Rough also offers signage, posters, and technical guidance to golf course managers alongside the seed, so that the installation of this new habitat is done correctly and golf course members are made aware of the efforts their course is making to save the monarch.
Why golf courses you may ask? Why not?! Many golf course superintendents want to conserve the natural resources of their home state and improve upon the large acreage that they own. “Monarchs in the Rough is a win-win for someone that simply wants more habitat on-the-ground, which we know we need. There is education, outreach, financial and other business improvement benefits to courses that lead to enhanced competitiveness in a tight market.” says Marcus Gray. He also mentions that across the United States, golf courses make up 2.3 million acres of land. A typical golf course represents 150 acres of open land. With more than 1/3 of the course not being used for play, it is left available for potential restoration projects. The USGA specifically has encouraged the project citing its ongoing commitment to sustainability. “The golf sector has really gotten behind the idea and it’s personally my greatest contribution to conservation.” says Marcus Gray.

Currently there are more than 700 courses committed to the program, dedicating more than 1,000 acres to butterfly stewardship. You can help to save the monarchs by donating to the Monarchs in the Rough program or programs with a similar mission. If you would like to contribute to the Monarchs in the Rough effort, donations can be made securely online here:

You can also inform any avid golfer in your life of this program and tell them the importance of getting their golf superintendent to sign up and participate. Audubon International additionally works on course monitoring and reporting. If you are interested in contributing your time rather than financial support, Monarchs in the Rough is looking for participants to assist in measuring wildflowers or counting butterflies on golf courses. The program is collaborating with the Monarch Joint Venture to get up to 40 established sites monitored to augment the Summer 2019 Participant Survey:

Or you can create your own habitat at home! Just be sure to do your research and use regionally appropriate species.
Find out more about Monarchs in the Rough by listening to our podcast with Marcus below: