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Monarch Listing Is Warranted

Monarch Butterfly, Lighthouse Field, Santa Cruz (1/16/06) John Poimiroo

Listing the Monarch butterfly as a threatened or endangered specie is warranted but precluded due to other priorities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) announced today.

The announcement follows reports of plummeting Monarch butterfly counts in California, the specie’s western wintering grounds. Once numbering over one million butterflies, the western population of Monarch butterflies dropped in the last year from over 27,000 to just 2,000 butterflies.

Monarch butterflies are one of numerous remarkable species that migrate to and through California in autumn. The Monarchs spend winter along the California coast from San Diego north to Marin County. Prime winter roosts have included Pismo Beach, Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz. Though, scenes like this are disappearing.

Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/16/2006) John Poimiroo

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman attributed private conservation efforts, supported by the USF&WS, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as resulting in “stunning and unprecedented” accomplishments in recent years, such as planting 500 million milkweed plants and improving 5.3 million acres of Monarch habitat.

Despite these accomplishments, at least in the west, Monarch butterflies are heading toward extinction.

Bay Nature reported Sarina Jepsen, Director of Endangered Species at the Xerces Society as saying that the decision to declare the Monarchs as warranted to be listed as threatened or endangered, “does not yet provide the protection that Monarchs, and especially the western population, so desperately need to recover.”

The butterfly population is declining because of a lack of available milkweed (the only food they eat), less overwintering habitat, insecticides (sometimes related to mosquito control efforts) and climate change, said Lori Nordstrom of the USF&WS.

In response, efforts to encourage planting milkweed and creating quality butterfly habitat, led by conservation groups and the USF&WS, are assisting private land owners, developers, farmers and ranchers and communities. Under the Conservation Reserve Program, “They do the work, we provide the seed,” explained USF&WS Regional Director Charley Wooley.

USF&WS officials admit that while other conservation efforts can be successfully led by federal and international agencies and NGOs, successes in preserving Monarchs have occurred mostly due to the efforts of private individuals and land owners who plant milkweed.

“The public has become galvanized,” Wooley said, “they’re planting milkweed in gardens and fields, pastures and along rights of way.” Organizations like the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation assist in calling the public to action and sourcing suppliers of native milkweed seed.

In concluding today, the USF&WS announced it will work until 2024 on a plan intended to propose listing the Monarch butterfly as threatened or endangered, if warranted. For now, the protection of western Monarch butterflies is in the public’s hands. Here’s a list of types of milkweed California Monarchs need to survive and where to find them. Caution: do not plant tropical (Mexican) milkweed, as it is harmful to the survival of Monarchs. Plant only varieties of milkweed native to California or they will not migrate.

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Give native native milkweed seeds or seedballs as holiday gifts. Email bobby@milkweed.com or visit butterflyencounters.com to order the right type of California seeds Monarch butterflies need to survive.