By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal ruling on whether to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is on course for issuance sometime in June, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) spokesperson said last week.
“We are currently reviewing the status of the monarch butterfly and anticipate making a decision by June 30, 2019, about its listing status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ivan Vincente of the FWS Division of Public Affairs, responding to a request for comment from Farm World. “The Monarch Conservation Database release will take place at that time, as well.”
The FWS was petitioned in 2014 to protect the monarch under the ESA, a recommendation many farm organizations – including the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) – adamantly oppose. The FWS, however, found that the petition may contain merit and published a 90-day substantial finding in the Federal Register on Dec. 31, 2014.
The finding announced the FWS would launch a thorough assessment to determine if the monarch needs ESA protection, with a decision to follow. Almost five years later, the assessment is nearly complete.
FWS’ June announcement will clarify whether formal conservation efforts will be undertaken to preserve critical habitat for the monarch, which feeds and lays its eggs on milkweed plants. The listing of the butterfly under the ESA would “fundamentally change agriculture in the Midwest,” Lyndsey Ramsey, IFB associate director of natural and environmental resources, said in 2018.
“In the case of the monarch, if critical habitat is defined very broadly to not only be where milkweed exists, but where milkweed could exist, then the impact could be widespread. Federal agencies may have to be consulted for simple things, from signing up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), getting a Section 404 permit, or applying pesticides.”
The IFB, along with the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, formed the Farm Bureau Monarch Project (FBMP) to address concerns that agricultural interests would not have a seat at the table as federal officials consider an ESA listing for the monarch.
According to the FBMP and the Illinois Monarch Project, Illinois farmers have been installing and improving pollinator habitat on their farms for years, with one of the highest adoption rates in the country for installation of pollinator habitat under the CRP, ranking second only to Iowa.
In addition, acreage enrolled in the CP42-Pollinator Habitat practice has increased by more than 300 times, the group says, resulting in more than 100,000 acres of habitat across Illinois.
To spur the effort to restore habitat in a voluntary manner, the IFB has adopted a 20-year monarch habitat restoration campaign that aims to educate membership about the latest science involving pollinators, best management practices for protecting them, and the technical information needed to create or improve monarch and other pollinator habitats.
For these and other reasons, listing the monarch butterfly under the ESA is unnecessary, according to the IFB.
Getting milkweed seeds into the hands of the public and farmers is often a grassroots effort. Such is the case with Kay MacNeil, an Illinois resident who dispensed approximately 7,000 inexpensive packets of “butterfly weed seed” out of her home in 2018. She has also sold milkweed to the Illinois Department of Transportation for use along state roads and highways.
Through her “Raise and Release” program, 3,554 butterflies were released in the state by volunteers during 2018. “I’ve just ordered 5,000 new packets of seed and hopefully I will get those distributed this year,” said MacNeil, who accepts orders via email at email@example.com or by phone at 815-469-1294.
“I always say it is important to keep the ripple of information moving out. Most people realize that there are fewer monarchs now than when we were kids. With a little education, they learn the ‘fix’ may be as simple as gardeners having milkweed plants in their yards.”
Campaigns such as MacNeil’s “Milkweed for Monarchs” initiative will be able to register their efforts and access the FWS Monarch Conservation Database to be unveiled in June. It assimilates current information about recently completed, ongoing, and planned conservation efforts for the monarch. It will serve to help the FWS and conservation partners assess conditions for the monarch now and into the future across the nation.
However, the reduction in monarch populations is not limited to the United States and Mexico, according to recent news reports. Monarch populations are down by about one-third in Germany due to “high-intensity” agricultural practices there, according to recent research study conducted by the Technical University of Munich (TUM).
“Our study emphasizes the negative impact of the conventional, industrialized agriculture on the butterfly diversity and shows the urgent need for ecologically sustainable cultivation methods. Additional field studies may identify individual factors for the insect die-back and (recommend) implementing appropriate countermeasures,” said TUM lead researcher Dr. Thomas Schmitt.