Federal protection sought for monarch butterfly

A monarch butterfly sits on a bush at the Pedro Herrada butterfly sanctuary on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan on November 23, 2012.
Stringer/Mexico | Reuters
A monarch butterfly sits on a bush at the Pedro Herrada butterfly sanctuary on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan on November 23, 2012.
Posted Aug. 26, 2014, at 1:11 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A petition was filed Tuesday with U.S. Fish and Wildlife seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies, which have declined more than 90 percent in the last 20 years, according to The Center for Biological Diversity.

The request was filed by co-lead petitioners The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety and was joined by Xerces Society and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower.

The petitioners contend the orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat over the years, including about a third of their summer breeding grounds.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” said Lincoln Brower, monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

“We’re at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

The butterfly’s decline is largely blamed on use of herbicide and herbicide-resistant crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multi-generational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back. During summer months, they often are seen throughout the United States. But in the winter, the majority of monarchs from east of the Rocky Mountain Range converge in the mountains of central Mexico, where they form tight clusters on just a few acres of trees. Most monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to trees along the California coast to overwinter.

Monarchs also are threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted the monarchs’ entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable because of changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms.

“The monarch is the canary in the cornfield, a harbinger of environmental change that we’ve brought about on such a broad scale that many species of pollinators are now at risk if we don’t take action to protect them,” Brower, who has published hundreds of scientific studies on monarchs, said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must now issue a 90-day finding on whether the petition warrants further review.

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