As More Monarchs Disappear, Conservationists Step in to Save Them From Extinction
Conservationists have been raising the alarm about the plight of monarch butterflies who have continued to decline at staggering rate. Now they’re taking legal action over the government’s failure to act to protect them.
In the 1990s, an estimated one billion monarchs made their way from as far north as Canada to the oyamel fir forests in Mexico, where they spend their winters, while another million were believed to spend the winter at sites in California.
exSadly, their numbers have continued to decline and scientists believe they’re threatened at every state of their life cycle by issues ranging from disease, predators, extreme weather and climate change to the use of herbicides and pesticides, particularly those that are killing milkweed – the only plant that monarchs lay eggs on and the only plant the caterpillars will eat.
In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a petition to have them listed under the Endangered Species Act over concerns about their future survival.
According to the petitioners, monarchs have declined by a staggering 90 percent, or more by some estimates, in less than 20 years and “may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat ― an area about the size of Texas ― including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.” Over the last two winters, the numbers of monarchs were the lowest ever recorded.
Good news came later that year when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that federal protection may be warranted. While the announcement was well-received, monarch advocates still worried about how much time protection would take to implement, given the agency still had to conduct a 12-month status review before even making a final decision. Despite widespread public support for protecting monarchs, the agency has yet to do anything.
This week, the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety filed a notice of intent to sue the FWS over its failure to act during the required timeframe, in violation of the ESA. The organizations hope to compel a response, or at least get the agency to commit to a date to make a decision, which could include proposing protection, rejecting protection, or adding monarchs to the waiting list.
“The threats to the monarch are so large in scale that the butterfly needs the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act if we’re really serious about saving this amazing migrating wonder for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
As more time passes and more monarchs disappear, the harder it will be to help them, or save them at all. While some action has been taken by the government, including a pledge of $3.2 million for monarch conservation projects, monarch advocates fear that still isn’t nearly enough to help and have continued to stress the importance of the actions we can take in our communities to help monarchs survive.
For more info on how to help monarchs, check out the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Save the Monarch campaign and Monarch Watch, which is urging people to get involved by planting and maintaining “waystations ” to help monarchs along their migration by offsetting the losses of milkweed habitats. The organization offers seed kits and the opportunity to register sites with the International Monarch Waystation Registry. The Xerces Society also has a number of resources, including a Milkweed Seed Finder guide to help people find native seeds for their area.
Please also sign and share the petition showing your support for protecting monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act.
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