The alarming decline of the monarch butterfly population necessitates federal action to save the iconic orange and black pollinators.
Such is the urging of the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, joined by the Xerces Society and monarch expert Dr. Lincoln Brower, who sent a petition (pdf) Tuesday to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the butterflies.
Over the last two decades, the groups say, population has plummeted by more than 90 percent. To put that "staggering" figure in perspective, Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that "in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”
The request for federal protection follows stacking evidence against corporate agriculture for its role in these declining numbers. A primary threat to the pollinators, the petition states, is widespread plantings in the Midwest of genetically modified crops and the herbicides used on them, which are wiping out the monarch's larval food, milkweed.
"In the Midwest, nearly ubiquitous adoption of, glyphosate-resistant 'Roundup Ready' corn and soybeans has caused a precipitous decline of common milkweed, and thus of monarchs, which lay their eggs only on milkweeds. The majority of the world’s monarchs originate in the Corn Belt region of the United States where milkweed loss has been severe, and the threat that this habitat loss poses to the resiliency, redundancy, and representation of the monarch cannot be overstated," the petition reads.
Brower, who has been studying monarchs for six decades, said we need to take action before it is too late.
“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.”
“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 warned.