Monarch Butterfly Placed on Endangered Species Act Waiting List

According to a press release published yesterday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the monarch butterfly has qualified for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing. However, due to “work on higher-priority listing actions,” the monarch has been assigned a listing priority number of eight. Currently, the FWS explains, listing actions for 161 species (64%) rank above the monarch. According to the Center for Food Safety, the decision comes over six years after it and other organizations petitioned the Secretary of the Interior.

In 2014, the FWS received a petition to list the species and propounded a substantial 90-day finding thereafter. The agency began an in-depth status assessment in 2016.

In evaluating threats to the monarch, the FWS considered habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, climate change, and simulated future conditions to estimate the risk of extinction. The FWS also contemplated that risk in light of the fact that North American monarchs comprise 90% of the butterfly’s total population.

The press release explains that scientists studying the insect have noted population declines in the last 20 years. For example, the species’ western population, located in California, saw a precipitous decline, from about 1.2 million in 1997 to less than 30,000 in 2019.

According to FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith, the agency “conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act.”

Skipwith added that, “[h]owever, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions. While this work goes on, we are committed to our ongoing efforts with partners to conserve the monarch and its habitat at the local, regional and national levels. Our conservation goal is to improve monarch populations, and we encourage everyone to join the effort.” The FWS explains because monarchs are exclusively dependent on milkweed during the caterpillar stage, milkweed planting efforts across the country form the basis for many conservation plans.

The Center for Food Safety, a frequent plaintiff against the government in conservation matters, released a statement of its own. The organizaiton’s legal director, George Kimbrell, said ” “This is the best result in the realm of reality from this administration and a huge victory. The Trump administration would not grant listing outright and dare crossing Monsanto/Bayer, but at the same time could not deny that in petitioning for their listing, we and our colleagues were right on the science and the law: Monarchs deserve to be protected”