A biologist and attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity says that while there have been modest gains in the population of monarch butterflies, the species needs to be given federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in order to save it from further decline.
A recent World Wildlife Fund study found that the population of monarch butterflies in Mexico this winter was at 56 million, up from 35 million last year.
Collette Adkins Giese said on Monday that it’s good news that monarchs didn’t experience another population decline, but also noted that the count from this winter marks the second-lowest population ever recorded.
“We were up to a billion butterflies in the 1990s,” she said. “That’s over a 90 percent decline over the last 20 years.”
According to Giese, modern farming techniques are the number one threat to the monarch population.
“The biggest threat is the widespread planting of genetically modified crops in the Midwest and the dramatic surge in the use of Roundup and other herbicides that use glyphosate,” she said.
Giese said that monarchs have traditionally used farmers’ fields as a habitat. Milkweed, a food source for monarchs, would grow in the fields along with corn and soybeans. Now, she said, pesticides and herbicides are killing the milkweed.
In order to bolster the monarch’s population, the Center for Biological Diversity is seeking federal protections for them.
“We can’t be complacent about saving the monarchs,” Giese said.
Listing the species under the Endangered Species Act would make it illegal to intentionally kill monarchs. The federal government would also be able to protect critical habitats that are essential to monarch survival and develop a recovery plan that would detail how to get monarchs on the path to recovery.
Giese said one step people could take to help the butterflies would be to plant native milkweed in their yards.
“You want to make sure you are planting milkweed native to the Midwest,” she said. “You can easily order milkweed seeds from the Internet or you can buy milkweed at your local nursery. But you’ll want to ask if the milkweed has been treated with pesticides.”
Overall, Giese is optimistic about grassroots support for monarch recovery.
“There are so many problems that this world faces (that) have complex solutions. But for monarchs, we just need milkweed,” she said. “It would do so much to recover the monarch population.”