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Monarch Butterfly to be Considered for Federal Endangered Species Protection

Monarch Butterfly

The US Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct a one-year review on the status of the monarch butterfly to see if it qualifies for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. Their press release says:

“The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save North America’s monarchs, so I’m really happy that these amazing butterflies are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“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,” said George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney for Center for Food Safety.  “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure monarchs are protected.”

On January 29, 2014, the World Wildlife Fund reported that the “number of monarch butterflies hibernating in Mexico reached an all-time low in 2013.” Since recording of overwintering areas began, the butterflies reached a peak in 1995, covering 44.5 acres in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City. Now they cover only 1.65 acres. Their decline can no longer be explained away by seasonal aberration. The monarchs are literally disappearing.

The Center for Biological Diversity cites GMO crop herbicide use  in midwest corn and soybean agricultural fields as a contributory factor in monarch decline, as Roundup kills milkweed that the butterflies depend on for survival:

The butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies 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.

The monarch butterfly is a milkweed butterfly that is famous for its southward late summer/autumn migration from the United States and southern Canada to Mexico and coastal California, and northward return in spring, which occurs over the lifespans of three to four generations of the butterfly.

In addition to herbicide use for crops, practices such and mowing and tilling can also contribute to milkweed decline, so some areas have placed restrictions on these methods. Some farmers also address various ways to grow milkweed, depending on the area. For example, in Texas:

According to Cates, there are two ways to plant milkweed. The first and preferred way is to cast the seeds on the ground in the fall and let nature takes its course. This mimics the plant’s natural way of propagation.

The second way is to stratify the seed as spring approaches by placing it in cold water in the refrigerator for 24 hours. After that, you drain the seed, put it in moist vermiculate or perlite, then store in the refrigerator for another 30 to 45 days. This process imitates wintry conditions, which then makes the seed sprout within a day of being planted outdoors in the warmth of spring.

Because of native milkweed’s orneriness, many monarch lovers have turned to tropical milkweed from South America to feed their beloved butterfly. It grows as easily as a sweet pea. But Cates is not a fan of the substitute.

“There’s emerging science that tropical milkweed may interfere with monarch migrations, and it may be a pathway for disease in monarchs,” he says.

The sixty-day period for public comment submission regarding whether monarchs should be placed on the Endangered Species list begins today. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal will be published in the Federal Register. Public comments on the prospect of listing monarchs will be accepted through March 2. To view the notice and submit information starting today, visit regulations.gov and search for docket number FWS-R3-ES-2014-0056.

Monarch Butterfly Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

InForum: Monarch Butterfly May Make Endangered Species List

Fair Use Monarch Butterfly photo courtesy of Collette Adkins Giese / Center for Biological Diversity

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