Officials of the Trump administration are expected to release their decision on giving the monarch butterfly the federal designation of an endangered species due to its declining population over the years.
These beautiful and colorful butterfly species are most familiar in the backyards but in recent years they have been caught in a global extinction crisis. KTLA reported that the declining population of the monarch butterfly can be attributed to the use of farm herbicides, climate change, and the destruction of milkweed plants.
Protection Under the Endangered Species Act
The monarch butterfly population started to decline in the 1990s which spurred a preservation campaign among schoolchildren, homeowners and landowners, conservation groups, the government, and businesses.
Although their efforts may seem enough to save the population of the monarch butterfly, it is not the same if the said species will be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2019, less than 30,000 remained of the millions that spent winter in California's coastal groves during the 1980s. While this year's count, although not yet official, is said to be only about 2,000, according to Sabrina Jepsen Xerces Society conservation group's director of the endangered species program.
"We may be witnessing the collapse of the monarch population in the West," she said.
Experts estimated that the decline in the monarch butterfly population has already reached up to 80%. The 2014 petition from conservation groups on behalf of the monarch butterflies has said that the US Fish and Wildlife Service must respond by Tuesday, December 15.
Listing the monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act will give them a comprehensive recovery plan and ongoing funding, said Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Tierra Curry.
That means federal agencies would have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before conducting actions, like expanding highways, to prescribe other measures tailored specifically for the butterflies. Plus, federal protection for the butterflies will create strict resistance from agricultural groups to protect the habitats of monarch butterflies.
What Caused the Decline of Monarch Butterfly Population?
According to a report by NBC Los Angeles, the monarchs were in decline due to the worsening droughts in which the rising temperatures prompted the butterflies to leave their wintering habitats too soon. Leaving ahead of their scheduled departure damage their reproduction.
Moreover, habitat loss is also a problem among the butterflies and if it were not slowed down there will be no more monarch butterfly migration in the next 30 years, said insect ecologist Orley "Chip" Taylor.
In the past 20 years, 165 million acres of monarch habitat have been lost due to developments and herbicide application in cropland. Besides, genetically modified corn and soybeans have wiped out milkweed on which butterflies lay their eggs. Caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves while the adults love to suck the nectar from their flowers.
On the other hand, farmers have spent years getting rid of milkweed because they reduce crop yield and make the livestock sick when eaten. That is why it would be challenging to tell farmers to start planting milkweed again for the monarch butterflies. However, some farmers and landowners have already set aside a place for conservation for the butterflies and started planting milkweed there.
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