The monarch butterfly is endangered, though the feds won’t say so

The federal government admits that monarchs meet the endangered criteria but has a reputation for slow-walking such matters. In the past four years, only 25 species have been put on the list, the fewest number in decades.

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In this June 2, 2019, file photo, a monarch butterfly rests on a Swedish Ivy plant soon after emerging from its cocoon.

In this June 2, 2019, file photo, a monarch butterfly rests on a Swedish Ivy plant soon after emerging from its cocoon.

Carolyn Kaster/AP Photos

It really is a simple concept: A species that meets the criteria belongs on the federal endangered species list.

That ought to go for the monarch butterfly, whose numbers have plummeted in the U.S. since the 1990s, due to climate change, widespread use of herbicides and loss of habitat for milkweed, the monarch’s only food source.

Yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it would not put the monarch on the endangered list until 2024, claiming that other animals face a more dire extinction threat and are in greater need of federal protection.

On the face of it, that decision might make sense. Human activity — harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing, climate change, pollution — has driven up to one million species to the brink of extinction — and some species are no doubt closer to disappearing than others.

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But consider this: In recent years, the Trump administration has earned a reputation for unprecedented slow-walking on such matters: It has added only 25 species to the endangered list, fewer than any since the act took effect in 1973.The administration also hasweakened protectionsfor endangered and threatened species, including limiting consideration of the impact of climate change when evaluating whether animals should be listed.

For the sake of protecting and enhancing our planet’s biodiversity, that’s got to change under the Biden administration.

Meanwhile, this is no time to let up on efforts to protect the monarch and restore its decimated population, as Iris Caldwell of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the state coordinator of the Illinois Monarch Project, told us.

“There’s still a lot of need to provide habitat and address the threats facing monarchs,” Caldwell said. The population of western monarch butterflies, most of which are in California, plummeted this year to just an estimated 2,000, down from some 30,000 in 2019 and 1.2 million in 1997.

Eastern monarchs, a larger group that includes those in Illinois, have declined from about 384 million in 1996 to 14 million in 2013. A year later, environmentalists first petitioned the federal government to list monarchs as endangered.

Since then, efforts like the Illinois Monarch Project have kicked in to help restore monarch habitat by planting milkweed. The eastern monarch has rebounded somewhat, to about 60 million.

But whether or not the feds make it official, monarch butterflies are still in peril.

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