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Daily News Blog

01
Feb

TAKE ACTION: Save Monarch Butterflies from Extinction!  

(Beyond Pesticides, February 1, 2021) The yearly winter monarch count along the California coast, overseen each year by the conservation group Xerces Society, was the lowest ever. In 2020, citizen scientists counted only 2,000 butterflies. The findings indicate that many on the planet today are, within their lifetimes, likely to experience a world where western monarchs are extinct.

Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list monarch butterflies on the list of threatened and endangered species. Tell the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate pollinator poisons.

Western monarchs migrate from the Pacific Northwest to overwintering grounds along the California coast, where they remain in relatively stationary clusters that are easy to count. In the 1980s, roughly 10 million monarchs overwintered along the coast. By the 1990s, that number fell to 1.2 million. Five years ago, counts were at roughly 300,000. By 2019, numbers crashed below 30,000.

This year’s count saw no monarchs at well-known overwintering sites like Pacific Grove. Other locations, like Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove and National Bridges State Park, saw only a few hundred. “These sites normally host thousands of butterflies, and their absence this year was heartbreaking for volunteers and visitors flocking to these locales hoping to catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring clusters of monarch butterflies,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society.

Decline is driven by human activity. Climate change, habitat destruction, and the use of toxic pesticides are causing “death by a thousand cuts,” says Xerces Society executive director Scott Black.

A changing climate impacts environmental cues that trigger breeding, migration, and hibernation in monarchs. Climate-induced extreme weather events such as wildfires, severe storms, and droughts further stress populations. Habitat destruction has occurred through the displacement of natural land with industrial development, and logging and other damage to monarch overwintering sites. Milkweed plants that monarchs require as larval food have been found to contain pesticides at levels that can kill them—one study found toxic pesticides in every milkweed plant tested. Herbicides, like glyphosate (Roundup), that do not kill monarchs directly are killing milkweed, exacerbating concerns around habitat destruction. Each of these stressors are harmful on its own, but stress is compounded by their combination.

A study published in the journal Biological Conservation in 2017 (while numbers were still ~300,000) determined that western monarchs faced a 72% chance of extinction in 20 years and an 86% chance of extinction within the next 50 years. “This study doesn’t just show that there are fewer monarchs now than 35 years ago,” said study coauthor Cheryl Schultz, PhD, at Washington State University. “It also tells us that, if things stay the same, western monarchs probably won’t be around as we know them in another 35 years.”

Eastern monarchs are also suffering. This population migrates from the U.S. East and Midwest to overwintering grounds in Mexico each year. A 2018 study published by a research team at University of Florida found that this population has declined by 80% since 2005. Two years after that study was published, the 2019/2020 eastern monarch count conducted by citizen scientists found another 53% reduction. Eastern monarchs are counted by the number of acres they occupy. In 2019/20, this number was 7 acres, down from 15 acres the prior year. Scientists have determined that 15 acres is the minimum threshold necessary to prevent total migratory collapse. A report from the World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of decline, the eastern monarch migration could collapse within 20 years.

Wildlife and conservation groups urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. Late last December, the Trump Administration announced it was a candidate for listing, but that listing is “precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions.” The Biden administration must follow through with listing and protective actions.

Monarchs may be the most charismatic pollinator to fall in the age of the insect apocalypse. But unless meaningful changes are made, it will not be the last. Recent research published in Biological Conservation show that 41% of insect species are declining and 30% are endangered, with an overall rate of insect decline at 2.5% each year.

Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list monarch butterflies on the list of threatened and endangered species. Tell the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate pollinator poisons.

Letter to Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The yearly winter monarch count along the California coast was the lowest ever. In 2020, citizen scientists counted only 2,000 butterflies. The findings indicate the imminent extinction of western monarchs. Urgent action is required to implement a plan to protect monarchs as an endangered species!

Western monarchs migrate from the Pacific Northwest to overwintering grounds along the California coast, where they remain in relatively stationary clusters that are easy to count.  In the 1980s, roughly 10 million monarchs overwintered along the coast. By the 1990s, the number fell to 1.2 million. Five years ago, counts were at roughly 300,000. By 2019, numbers had crashed below 30,000.

This year’s count saw no monarchs at well-known overwintering sites like Pacific Grove. Other locations, like Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove and National Bridges State Park, saw only a few hundred.

Decline is driven by human activity. Climate change, habitat destruction, and the use of toxic pesticides are combining to threaten the species. The way to initiate action to protect monarchs is to include them on the list of threatened and endangered species.

A changing climate alters environmental cues that trigger monarchs to breed, migrate, and hibernate. Climate-induced extreme weather events such as wildfires, severe storms, and droughts further stress populations. Habitat destruction includes logging, the displacement of natural land by industrial development, and other damage to monarch breeding and overwintering sites. Milkweed plants that monarchs require as larval food have been found to contain pesticides at levels that can kill them– one study found toxic pesticides in every milkweed plant tested. Herbicides, like glyphosate (Roundup), that do not kill monarchs directly kill milkweed, exacerbating habitat destruction. Each of these stressors is harmful on its own, but their combination compounds the damage.

A study published in the journal Biological Conservation in 2017 (while numbers were still ~300,000) determined that western monarchs faced a 72% chance of extinction in 20 years and an 86% chance of extinction within the next 50 years.

Eastern monarchs are also suffering. This population migrates from the US East and Midwest to overwintering grounds in Mexico each year. A 2018 study by researchers at University of Florida found that this population has declined by 80% since 2005. Two years later, the 2019/2020 eastern monarch count conducted by citizen scientists found another 53% reduction. Eastern monarchs are counted by the number of acres they occupy. In 2019/20, this number was 7 acres, down from 15 acres the prior year. Scientists have determined that 15 acres is the minimum threshold necessary to prevent total migratory collapse. A report from the World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of decline, the eastern monarch migration could collapse within 20 years.

Wildlife and conservation groups urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Late last December, the Trump Administration announced it was a candidate for listing, but that listing is “precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions.” The presence of other high-priority issues is further evidence of the existence of severe threats to biodiversity, not a reason to avoid action. Protecting biodiversity is the purpose of the ESA. The Biden administration must follow through with listing and protective actions.

Monarchs may be the most charismatic pollinator to fall in the age of the insect apocalypse. But unless meaningful changes are made, it will not be the last. Recent research published in Biological Conservation show that 41% of insect species are declining and 30% are endangered, with an overall rate of insect decline at 2.5% each year.

Please put monarch butterflies on the threatened and endangered species list and require protective actions by other agencies.

Thank you.

Letter to Jane Nishida, Acting Administrator, EPA

The yearly winter monarch count along the California coast was the lowest ever. In 2020, citizen scientists counted only 2,000 butterflies. The findings indicate the imminent extinction of western monarchs. Urgent action is required to protect monarchs as an endangered species!

Western monarchs migrate from the Pacific Northwest to overwintering grounds along the California coast, where they remain in relatively stationary clusters that are easy to count.  In the 1980s, roughly 10 million monarchs overwintered along the coast. By the 1990s, the number fell to 1.2 million. Five years ago, counts were at roughly 300,000. By 2019, numbers had crashed below 30,000. This year’s count saw no monarchs at well-known overwintering sites like Pacific Grove. Other locations, like Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove and National Bridges State Park, saw only a few hundred.

Decline is driven by human activity. Climate change, habitat destruction, and the use of toxic pesticides are combining to threaten the species.

A changing climate alters environmental cues that trigger monarchs to breed, migrate, and hibernate. Climate-induced extreme weather events such as wildfires, severe storms, and droughts further stress populations. Habitat destruction includes logging, the displacement of natural land by industrial development, and other damage to monarch breeding and overwintering sites.

Milkweed plants that monarchs require as larval food have been found to contain pesticides at levels that can kill them– one study found toxic pesticides in every milkweed plant tested. Herbicides, like glyphosate (Roundup), that do not kill monarchs directly kill milkweed, exacerbating habitat destruction. Each of these stressors is harmful on its own, but their combination compounds the damage.

A study published in the journal Biological Conservation in 2017 (while numbers were still ~300,000) determined that western monarchs faced a 72% chance of extinction in 20 years and an 86% chance of extinction within the next 50 years.

Eastern monarchs are also suffering. This population migrates from the U.S. East and Midwest to overwintering grounds in Mexico each year. A 2018 study by researchers at University of Florida found that this population has declined by 80% since 2005. Two years later, the 2019/2020 eastern monarch count conducted by citizen scientists found another 53% reduction. Eastern monarchs are counted by the number of acres they occupy. In 2019/20, this number was 7 acres, down from 15 acres the prior year. Scientists have determined that 15 acres is the minimum threshold necessary to prevent total migratory collapse. A report from the World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of decline, the eastern monarch migration could collapse within 20 years.

Wildlife and conservation groups urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Late last December, the Trump Administration announced it was a candidate for listing, but that listing is “precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions.” The presence of so many high-priority issues is further evidence of the existence of severe threats to biodiversity, not a reason to avoid action. It is time for EPA to protect biodiversity from toxic chemical threats.

Monarchs may be the most charismatic pollinator to fall in the age of the insect apocalypse. But unless meaningful changes are made, it will not be the last. Recent research published in Biological Conservation show that 41% of insect species are declining and 30% are endangered, with an overall rate of insect decline at 2.5% each year.

Please include these threats to insect biodiversity in EPA’s pesticide registration decisions. Eliminate pesticides that endanger pollinators and their habitat.

Thank you.

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One Response to “TAKE ACTION: Save Monarch Butterflies from Extinction!  ”

  1. 1
    Denise Trafford Says:

    Plant lots of Milkweed . They love the native wildflower, Swamp Butterfly Weed .It’s a perennial and to watch them play out their life cycles is beyond a miracle.

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