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On Monday, as a response to a petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said that federal protection may be warranted for monarch butterflies. The petition was filed by three environmental groups and a scientist late this summer. The petitioners urged the USFWS to include Monarch butterflies into the endangered species list since their population has fallen by nearly 90 percent since 1996 on the U.S.’ eastern coast.
In 1996, about one billion Monarchs took part in the annual migration to Mexico as compared to just 35 million last year. Experts said that the 90 percent drop in the butterfly population would translate in human population terms as the U.S. losing all of its citizens except for those in Ohio and Florida.
“We’re at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans,”
said Tierra Curry, researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the organizations that requested federal protection for Monarch butterflies.
Environmentalists said that the massive decline was caused by uncontrolled farming that led to habitat loss across all the eastern U.S. Intensive farming has destroyed milkweed plants that the endangered insects need to lay their eggs and nourish their larvae.
Milkweed decline is linked with genetically engineered crops designed to withstand substances used to eradicate harmful insects that eventually kill native vegetation.
Monarch butterflies are also decimated by pesticide use and intensive deforestation on the mountains of Mexico and on the coast of California where several butterfly colonies winter.
The petition to get federal protection for threatened butterflies was filed by Xerces Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and Dr. Lincoln Brower, a world-renowned Monarch expert. The USFWS said that the petition contained enough “substantial information” for the listing to be warranted. However, it will take about a year before the agency gives a definite answer.
“We are extremely pleased that the federal agency in charge of protecting our nation’s wildlife has recognized the dire situation of the monarch. Protection as a threatened species will enable extensive monarch habitat recovery on both public and private lands,”
said Sarina Jepsen, the spokesperson for the Xerces Society.
Mrs. Curry said that the Endangered Species Act was the most powerful tool to save North America’s monarch and she was really content that the butterflies were a step closer to get the legal protection they so desperately needed.
George Kimbrell, attorney for Center for Food Safety, said his client was gratified because the USFWS took “a vital first step in a timely manner.” Mr. Kimbrell also said that the Center for Food Safety would do everything it could to ensure Monarchs were protected.
Image Source: Nathab