Despite steep declines in its numbers, the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, concluding it must first work on other, higher priority species.

Using occupied acreage as the measuring stick, FWS estimated the Eastern population of monarchs at 14 million in 2013, compared to 384 million in 1996. “The western population, located in California, saw a more precipitous decline, from about 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 in 2019,” FWS said in a news release. A listing petition was filed in 2014.

The species will remain a candidate for listing under the ESA with a listing priority number of 8, meaning the magnitude of threats is moderate but those threats are imminent. FWS said it plans to propose listing the monarch in 2024.

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The American Farm Bureau Federation was pleased, with President Zippy Duvall saying state farm bureaus “have been involved with state and regional planning efforts for the monarch — joining forces with the energy and utility sectors, those who manage natural areas, and our urban hubs across the country — to meet ambitious goals for the species.”

The service’s decision “will give all stakeholders time to continue conservation and research efforts,” he said.

An outside expert on the ESA found the decision “very strange.” Jake Li of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center said it’s only the second time since April 2016 that the service has issued a positive 12-month "warranted" finding on a species but declined to propose it for listing.

“Ironically, the agency will likely end up using more resources” when it proposes the butterfly for listing, because it will have to update its analysis. FWS said it plans to propose listing in fiscal 2024

“The Biden administration will likely face a lot of pressure to expedite the timeframe for listing the monarch,” Li said.

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