The monarch butterfly is threatened with extinction, but will not come under federal protection because other species are a higher priority, federal officials said Tuesday.
Monarchs have long captured human hearts, floating through courtyards, parks and fields on wings that resemble miniature works of art. But their numbers have been decimated by weather events fueled by climate change, combined with widespread habitat loss in the United States.
“We conducted a thorough and thorough review using a rigorous and transparent scientific process and found that the monarch met the criteria for listing under the Endangered Species Act,” said Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in a statement. “However, before we can propose a listing, we need to focus our resources on our highest priority listing actions.”
As part of the decision, the status of the monarchs will be reviewed annually by the agency and conservation efforts will continue. In recent years, countless monarch enthusiasts have planted milkweed, the only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat, to help maintain the species. The presence of milkweed has declined in monarch breeding grounds since farmers began using genetically modified crops to tolerate Roundup, a brand of weedkiller.
The United States is home to two populations of monarchs, one on either side of the Rocky Mountains. The eastern monarchs winter in Mexico and their western counterparts winter on the California coast. While both monarch populations are in decline, western monarchs are in free fall.
“We are facing a climate that is changing very rapidly,” said Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch and professor emeritus at the University of Kansas. “The immediate response is two things. First, we are restoring a lot of habitats. And secondly, we are trying to convince our fellow citizens and in particular our politicians that we must do something about greenhouse gases.