WASHINGTON, March 16, 2015-- In a letter to President Barack Obama, 52 House Democrats led by Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine called for protection of the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the letter recognized efforts by farmers and local, state and federal agencies to plant milkweed -- the main food source for the butterfly -- and educate the public on the plight of the monarch, the signers say it is not enough and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must take regulatory action.  

FWS announced in February more than $3 million in funding to increase habitat for the butterfly, whose numbers are estimated to have fallen by 90 percent in recent years.

“However, without a sea change in how the federal government addresses the use of herbicides, especially as applied to herbicide-resistant crops, vital monarch habitats will simply continue to disappear," according to the letter. "We believe that the Endangered Species Act represents the last best chance to save this amazing species and its incredible migration."

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The letter says that the annual migration of monarchs from North America to Mexico has plummeted because of the use of herbicides on genetically engineered crops that kill milkweed.

"When the monarchs got to Mexico they used to cover 50 square miles. By 2013 they covered an area about the size of a football field," Pingree said.  "The loss of habitat and devastation of the monarch population should be a wakeup call. If we keep applying ever increasing amounts of chemicals to farmlands, it's going to have an impact on the environment."

FWS is currently conducting a year-long review of a petition to protect the monarch under the ESA. The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society filed the petition last year. Listing the butterfly could make it illegal to modify monarch habitat — much of which is found in Midwestern cropland areas — without a permit. Listing could also lead to protection of “critical habitat” to help recover monarch populations.


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