Washington – The monarch butterfly, whose spectacular 2,000-mile migration has captivated scientists and school students for generations, is disappearing largely due to pesticides and may not be around for our children to witness in the future, according to a new report.
The monarch is one of 10 threatened species highlighted in the report, “Vanishing: Ten American Species Our Children May Never See”, by the Endangered Species Coalition, which comprises hundreds of national and local conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
The report identifies everyday actions that people can take to help slow the disappearance of United States’ iconic wildlife.
NRDC, the Xerces Society and the Center for Biological Diversity have each launched efforts to save the monarchs, whose population has plummeted by more than 90 percent in large part because the heavy application of the weed killer glyphosate (initially marketed as RoundupTM) on genetically modified corn and soybeans has contributed to the decline of milkweed plants, which the monarchs need to survive.
“When species like monarch butterflies are in trouble, it means we’re all in trouble, because they’re leading indicators of the health of the planet,” said Frances Beinecke, President of NRDC. “By acting now to conserve these beautiful creatures for future generations, we will also be restoring our natural heritage and creating a safer, healthier world for all.”
“The monarch butterfly is a familiar backyard friend and its drastic decline is a wake-up call that we are spraying and paving our way to a lonely, less interesting and dangerously less-diverse planet,” said Tierra Curry, Senior Scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Restoring the monarch butterflies’ habitat will require a large scale commitment to replant milkweed across the millions of acres from which it has been lost,” said Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Director at the Xerces Society. “We have already seen leadership from some farmers to bring milkweed back into the landscape.”
“With each passing day, our children are less and less likely to experience the full beauty of nature and see the kind of wildlife that baby boomers, Gen Xers and even Millennials experienced,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We owe it to our future generations of Americans to protect our vanishing wildlife and the special places they call home.”
The other endangered species in the report are the whitebark pine, mountain yellow-legged frog, North Pacific right whale, great white shark, little brown bat, rusty patched bumble bee, greater sage-grouse, polar bear, and the Snake River sockeye salmon.
According to the report, up to a billion monarch butterflies used to colour United States’ skies each summer, yet only about 33 million now remain. NRDC earlier this year filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking restrictions on glyphosate. Its use on corn and soybeans has soared 20-fold since the introduction in the 1990s of genetically modified crops that are glyphosate resistant, enabling farmers to blanket their fields with the herbicide and destroy native milkweed.
Separately, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society, along with the Center for Food Safety and renowned monarch researcher Lincoln Brower, last month petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which would allow significant protections for monarch habitat.
The organizations are also engaging in efforts to plant locally appropriate species of native milkweed along the monarchs’ main migration route, which stretches from a winter refuge in the mountains of Mexico through the eastern and Midwestern states up to southern Canada – as well as throughout western states for the population that primarily overwinters in California.