Government considers listing monarch butterfly as endangered

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 1, 2015 -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering the monarch butterfly for “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in response to urging from environmental groups that want federal protection for the species. 

According to a notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, the service determined that a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to list a subspecies of monarchs “presents substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted.”

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The monarch migrating population has dropped by more than 90 percent since 1995. However, the 2014 population is estimated to be two or three times as large as 2013's record low. 

The agency said the butterfly faces more threats than ever in its annual migratory journey of over 3,000 miles, including “habitat loss - particularly the loss of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's sole food source - and mortality resulting from pesticide use.”

FWS, part of the Department of the Interior, will now conduct a status review to determine whether listing is warranted and will accept information and comments until March 2.

The agency is looking for information on the subspecies' biology, range and population trends, habitat requirements, genetics and taxonomy, as well as other factors that are the basis for making a listing determination under the ESA.

Biotechnology and crop protection industries are directly targeted through the petition for producing herbicides that can kill monarch forage. 

Environmental groups have cited the widely-used herbicide glysophate as the chief cause of the decline of monarch butterflies. The groups that filed the monarch ESA petition say the species is threatened by pesticides used in agriculture, as well as those used on lawns and gardens, and for mosquito and grasshopper control.

“Monarchs are threatened by habitat loss due to increasing use of glyphosate and other herbicides that kill host and nectar plants, and also by lethal and sub-lethal effects of insecticides such as neonicotinoids, which are persistent in the environment and are known to be highly toxic to pollinators,” according to the groups' ESA petition.

Separately, the Environmental Protection Agency is being petitioned to ban the use of neonicotinoids - pesticides used on corn and soybean acres -- due to fears that their use is a major cause of the decline of honey bee and monarch butterfly populations.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Environmental Protection Agency in October to block its approval of a dual herbicide produced by Dow AgroSciences known as Enlist Duo, citing the loss of monarch butterflies.

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