If you happen to have a run-in with a monarch butterfly in the near future, consider yourself lucky. They’re about to be listed as endangered species.
The Center for Food Safety, the Center for Biological Diversity, Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend Endangered Species Act protection for the monarch butterfly. The agency will now review the status of the monarchs, a process that takes about one year.
Monarch butterfly populations have declined by a staggering 90 percent in the last 20 years, a drop that the groups say is beyond significant. “Our petition is a scientific and legal blueprint for creating the protection that the monarch so direly needs, and we are gratified that the agency has now taken this vital first step in a timely fashion,” George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney for Center for Food Safety said in a statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure monarchs are protected.”
Experts agree that the monarch butterfly is experiencing such a decline due largely in part to the planting of genetically modified crops. Most genetically modified crops being planted in the Midwest, where most of the monarchs are born, are resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup, the glyphosate-based herbicide that kills off milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food.
“The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded,” the Center for Food Safety said in a statement. “The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds.”
And the groups note that rising global temperatures could make the monarch’s homes, both winters in Mexico and summers in the U.S., unsuitable to sustain the species in the very near future.
According to the CFS, monarchs need “a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation.” A whopping 50 percent of monarchs winter population in Mexico can be eaten by birds and mammals in just one winter. And extreme weather conditions can also be devastating: “a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 14 times the size of the entire current population,” CFS explained.
“We are extremely pleased that the federal agency in charge of protecting our nation’s wildlife has recognized the dire situation of the monarch,” said Sarina Jepsen, the Xerces Society’s endangered species director. “Protection as a threatened species will enable extensive monarch habitat recovery on both public and private lands.”
Monarchs, like bees, are important pollinators vital to the health of our food chain. Honeybee populations are also currently being threatened by similar environmental hazards.
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Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service