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Lawsuit Launched for Protection of Monarch Butterflies

Tierra Curry and George Kimbrell - Center for Biological Diversity
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January 6, 2016
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Two environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety petitioned for the monarch’s protection in August 2014, following a more than 80 percent decline in the butterfly’s population over the past two decades.

In December 2014 the agency issued an initial positive decision on the petition and launched an official review of the butterfly’s status. The agency is now more than one year late in issuing a legally required “12-month finding” that will determine whether to protect the charismatic large and orange and black butterfly under the Act.

“The threats to the monarch are so large in scale that the butterfly needs the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act if we’re really serious about saving this amazing migrating wonder for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Endangered Species Act protection will provide a scientific and legal blueprint for the comprehensive protection that the monarch so direly needs,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney at Center for Food Safety. “It’s imperative that we protect monarchs now, before it’s too late.”

The groups’ lawsuit will force the agency to commit to a legally binding date to issue a final decision on the monarch’s protection. The “12-month finding” will either propose protection under the Endangered Species Act, reject protection under the Act, or add the butterfly to the candidate waiting list for protection.

The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 56.5 million butterflies last winter, the second lowest number ever recorded. The overall population shows a steep decline of 82 percent from the 20-year average. The population is expected to undergo a sizable rebound this winter due to favorable spring and summer weather, but monarchs need a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events.

A single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — eight times the size of the entire current population. Severe weather is expected to take a toll on the population later this winter due to the strong El Niño this year.

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will provide a total of $3.2 million to support monarch conservation projects, that total falls far short of the funding that would be required by Endangered Species Act protection to restore enough monarch habitat to ensure the butterfly’s future.

Read the rest at Center for Biological Diversity

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