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Groups Press Feds to List Monarch Butterfly as Threatened

Observers of the monarch butterfly think some die because they've been leaving their overwintering sites early due to climate change, before their preferred food source, milkweed, starts to bloom. (Pollinators/Pixabay)
Observers of the monarch butterfly think some die because they've been leaving their overwintering sites early due to climate change, before their preferred food source, milkweed, starts to bloom. (Pollinators/Pixabay)
September 24, 2020

PISMO BEACH, Calif. -- The federal government has until mid-December to decide whether to list the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, so groups concerned about the monarch's future are trying to raise public awareness.

The western population of the iconic orange and black butterfly has declined by 99% since the 1980s.

Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species and aquatic programs at The Xerces Society, says a decade ago, people might have seen 100,000 monarchs overwintering in their favored habitats in California. But now, there are often just a few dozen at each site.

"Very notably in the last two winters, which is when we count monarchs, we saw a really dramatic drop in the population," Jepsen said.

Scientists believe climate change, destruction of overwintering sites and habitat loss are contributing to the massive declines in the butterfly population.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides to list the monarch, it could block agricultural or commercial development or the use of pesticides in areas deemed to be critical habitat.

The agency could decide to list the species as threatened; it also could decide a listing isn't warranted. And Jepsen said there is a third option.

"They can say, 'We've reviewed all the scientific evidence and we believe that monarchs are warranted, but they're precluded by other priorities,' " Jepsen said. "So then, monarchs would become a 'candidate species.' "

The Endangered Species Coalition has mounted a letter-writing campaign to local newspapers, to raise awareness about preserving the monarch butterfly.

And the Xerces Society website has information on how to get training to help with the annual monarch count, which takes place around Thanksgiving and on New Year's Day.

Disclosure: Endangered Species Coalition contributes to our fund for reporting on Animal Welfare, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA