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Groups to sue Fish and Wildlife Service over monarch protection
By Chuck Raasch
WASHINGTON • Environmental and food safety groups say they will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force the federal agency to rule on whether the monarch butterfly deserves protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety gave notice that they will file a lawsuit within 60 days, and said they had received documents through the Freedom of Information Act indicating that the Fish and Wildlife Service may not rule on the issue for at least two more years. The lawsuit will argue that the federal agency passed the deadline to determine whether the iconic butterfly deserves to be named a “threatened” species at the end of 2015.
“We cannot make them protect the monarch, but we can make them issue a decision on whether or not to protect it,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Her organization and the Center for Food Safety, along with other groups, submitted a petition on Aug. 26, 2014, to list the monarch as a threatened species. Its numbers have plummeted from nearly 1 billion in 1997 to 56.5 million last year, according to studies lead by the World Wildlife Fund of Mexico.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Laury Parramore said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. But she provided an update on the request to name the monarch a threatened species.
“We have not yet established a schedule for addressing each of the backlogged petitions and so do not have a firm or projected date for a 12-month finding for monarch butterflies,” Parramore said. “We hope that, in the meantime, ongoing international conservation efforts to protect and restore monarch habitat will improve the status of the species to the extent that it will not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.”
Official designation of the monarch as threatened would require Fish and Wildlife to come up with a recovery plan, make more funding available to help the species recover, and require that any federally funded or permitted actions not harm monarchs or their habitat. Such designations in the past have led to major confrontations over species protection and land use.MONSANTO joins group
The butterfly’s winter habitat in Mexican forests and its source of food and reproductive habitat in the United States — primarily the milkweed plant — are under severe pressure. Creve Coeur-based Monsanto, whose pesticides in farm and other use have been cited as a reason for the milkweed’s decline, announced in September it was joining a consortium that would spend about $3.3 million to preserve and protect 33,000 acres of monarch habitat along the annual migration route in the central United States.
At that time, Monsanto said it had spent about $4 million to protect the monarch. In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was devoting $4 million to help farmers in 10 states, including Illinois and Missouri, plant and protect milkweed.
Included in that proposal was $309,000 for a “St. Louis Riverfront Butterfly Byway” along 19 miles of the Mississippi River. The Fish and Wildlife Service is part of that project, along with St. Louis, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Great Rivers Greenway, the St. Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
At the time of that announcement, Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe cited the sage grouse as an example of why he was optimistic that efforts to restore habitat would avoid a monarch threatened designation.
“We have done it with other species,” Ashe said. “I think we can do it here, and we have time.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has a target of 225 million monarchs by 2020. The latest census indicated that the number had risen from a low of 33.5 million the year before.
But Curry said that logging in Mexico had further reduced the habitat of wintering monarchs. She said she was worried that the El Nino weather pattern that has caused scientists to predict heavy moisture in the southern half of the U.S. but drought conditions further north could further threaten the species’ survival on its annual migration north this year.
“We are just really worried that if the population shrinks further that the migrations could collapse,” Curry said.
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