Feb 19, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Monarch Butterflies Could Soon Be Deemed “Endangered”

Dec 31, 2014 04:41 PM EST

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this week that it is considering placing the monarch butterfly under the federal protection of the Endangered Species Act. And now, for the next sixty days, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hear comments from the public on the idea of listing the butterfly. 

This announcement begins a yearlong review by the agency, as it tries to determine if the monarch butterfly is in need of protection and should be classified as "endangered" or "threatened".

"The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save North America's monarchs, so I'm really happy that these amazing butterflies are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need," senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, Tierra Curry said in a recent statement released on the agencies proposal.

Over the past twenty years, the monarch population has declined by ninety percent, prompting the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Lincoln Brower, a research biologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, to instigate the effort. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' newest proposal, therefore, is not unexpected, but rather a refreshing voice of the public chiming through the agency's concerns, as well.

Loss of habitat and the increased use of pesticides are cited as the main cause for the steep decline in the monarch populations.  Over the last twenty years, the monarch butterflies have lost approximately 165 million acres of its habitat, an area about the size of the state of Texas. Observers also say that the monarchs are threatened by global climate change. And researchers have predicted that much of its winter range in Mexico, and summer range in the United States, could become uninhabitable for the butterflies due to changes in temperature and the increase risk of drought, heat and severe storms.

Monarch butterflies are known for their multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to the U.S. and back.  In the winter, the butterflies converge in the mountains of central Mexico, where they form tight clusters on only a few acres of trees. Then, come spring when the United States' temperatures rise again, they make a return flight home just north of the border.

The population has declined from its recorded high of about 1 billion butterflies in the mid 1990s to only 35 million in 2013.  Scientists believe monarchs need a large population to remain resilient from threats of predators and severe weather, making this steep decline of great concern in spite of their remaining large numbers..  Nearly half of the Monarch population in Mexico can be eaten by birds during the winter months, and one storm alone in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs-far more than what exists today.

Public comments about the placing of the butterflies on the endangered list can be made by visiting www.regulations.gov and searching for docket number: FWS-R3-ES-2014-0056.

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