Monarchs Come a Step Closer to Getting Much Needed Protection

As conservationists continue to worry about the possibility of a world without monarchs, they’ve gotten some hope with an announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that federal protection may be warranted for these iconic butterflies.

In August, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition with the FWS seeking protection for monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

“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.”

According to the petitioners, monarchs have declined by a shocking 90 percent 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.” Last winter, the numbers of monarchs reached a record low, raising serious concerns about their future survival.

According to the Xerces Society, 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 sheltered by the trees, while another million were believed to spend the winter at sites in California. Now, scientists believe there are only 33 million left.

While monarchs face the usual threats for insects ranging from predators and parasites to extreme weather, their biggest threat now is a result of our activity. Scientists believe illegal logging in Mexico and the widespread use of herbicides and pesticides, particularly those with glyphosphate that are killing milkweed, have played big roles in their decline. A variety of flowers can provide food for monarchs, but milkweed is the only food source for monarch caterpillars.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed 8

While federal protection will undoubtedly help them, some are still worried about how much time it will take to implement and stop their decline if the FWS does move to list them – the agency still has to conduct a one-year status review before making any further decisions. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out, even though their numbers are expected to be up this winter, their population is still worryingly small and might not be able to withstand the threats they face, noting that a single winter storm killed an estimated 500 million monarchs in 2002, which is 14 times the size of the entire current population.

Orley Taylor, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, who also runs Monarch Watch, is stressing the importance of our involvement on local levels to help them along while they wait for protection.

“We’ve got to get people to plant milkweed all over,” he told the Denver Post. “We’re not going to save this species unless the public gets involved. Saving the monarch butterfly has to become a national priority.”

Monarch Watch is urging people to get involved by planting and maintaining milkweed “waystations“ in as many places as possible to help monarchs along their migration by offsetting the losses of milkweed habitats. If you’re interested in getting involved, 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 you find native seeds for your state.

For more information, visit Monarch Watch and the Xerces Society.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

79 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Veronique C.
Véronique C2 years ago

Signed 74981

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

What a GORGEOUS picture the one that is included in this article. Life is gorgeous.

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Angela K.
Angela K2 years ago

Petition signed, thanks for posting

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Edith B.
Edith B2 years ago

petition signed

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