Trump administration punts on protections for monarch butterfly

Trump administration punts on protections for monarch butterfly
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The Trump administration on Tuesday declined to give the monarch butterfly protections for threatened species for now, but left the door open for protections in the future. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that adding the butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species was “warranted” but that it is unable to do so because it needs to devote its resources to higher-priority species. 

The FWS said that its “warranted-but-precluded” determination means that every year it will consider adding the butterfly to the list until it decides to propose listing it or determines that protections aren’t warranted. 

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“We 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,” said FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith. 

The agency determined that 161 species that are on the waiting list for protections, or 64 percent of species on the list, are a higher priority than the monarch.

According to FWS, North American monarch populations have declined over the past 20 years. The eastern portion of the population fell from about 384 million in 1996 to 60 million in 2019, and the western portion fell from 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 last year. 

The decision came after a 2014 petition from environmental groups seeking threatened species status for the butterfly. 

The groups argued at the time that among the threats to the species is the loss of the milkweed plant that the butterflies are dependent on and particularly linked that decline to the use of the pesticide glyphosate. Glyphosate is a key ingredient in the Roundup weedkiller, which lawsuits have linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, though the company behind the product has maintained that it is safe to use. 

Other factors that the groups said harmed the species include climate change and severe weather events, as well as invasive species. 

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“Climate change has impacted both those populations but especially in Mexico it's been getting warmer and warmer, so when the butterfly should be ... building their fat storage to make the migration north, because it's getting warmer and warmer, they’re flying around a lot more and burning the reserve they need to make epic migration back north,” Stephanie Kurose, an endangered species policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Hill. 

And advocates argued that the butterflies need protection sooner rather than later. 

“Protection for Monarchs is needed — and warranted — now,” said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “The Biden administration must follow the law and science and protect them.”

Rebecca Beitsch contributed to this report.