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Fighting to Protect Monarchs on World Wildlife Day

March 3rd, 2016
By Larissa Walker, Pollinator Program Director
Center for Food Safety

Today is World Wildlife Day – a perfect time to celebrate the incredible diversity of plants and animals around us. Here at CFS, we’re celebrating one of our favorite species – the charismatic monarch butterfly.  Many people have fond memories of monarch butterflies touching different points in their life – whether it was learning about their incredible life cycle and metamorphosis in grade school science lessons, tagging and tracking monarch butterflies as part of citizen science projects, or simply witnessing a few moments of their magnificent migration in one’s own backyard. 

Each year, monarch butterflies undertake a spectacular multi-generational migration of thousands of miles to and from overwintering and breeding areas. Most monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate from southern Canada and the northern United States to the mountains of Mexico, and most monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to coastal California.

Unfortunately, if it seems like monarch butterflies have all but disappeared as of late, it’s because they have. Monarch population numbers declined dramatically over the past two decades. While monarch numbers fluctuated slightly upward the past two years, due to favorable weather conditions, the four lowest annual monarch counts on record all occurred since 2010.  

The root of the problem is as simple as it is widespread. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family. It’s the only food monarch caterpillars will eat. Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) is now the most widely used agricultural chemical and it is particularly detrimental to milkweed plants. This is especially true in the Midwest, where glyphosate is used heavily on genetically engineered corn and soybeans that are designed to withstand heavy applications of the chemical. The Midwest also happens to be the primary breeding area for monarch butterflies – so no milkweed (thanks to intense use of glyphosate) spells disaster for monarchs.  Researchers estimate that these remarkable butterflies have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat – an area about the size of Texas – including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.

The time to act is now. The monarch butterfly serves as a critical indicator species by highlighting larger environmental problems.  Many species, not just monarchs, are at risk if we don’t address the heavy uses of toxic pesticides in our agricultural system.  Yet so far, the government has refused to take the actions necessary for the monarch’s survival – namely, granting monarch butterflies protection under the Endangered Species Act. That’s why this World Wildlife Day, we’re urging you to join us in demanding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant monarchs strong protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Tell the government monarchs have suffered long enough – it’s time for strong federal action! Sign the petition: bit.ly/monsantovsmonarchs

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