The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Monarch Butterfly Migration Could Collapse, Scientists Warn
The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Monday, shows a decrease from last year's count and confirms the iconic orange and black butterfly is still very much at risk. The count of 2.48 hectares of occupied winter habitat is down from 2.91 hectares last winter.
Overall, monarchs have declined by more than 80 percent over the past two decades.
"Another year, another reminder: Our government must do what the law and science demands, and protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, before it's too late," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. "The remaining question is whether the Trump administration wants to do Monsanto's bidding or protect monarchs for future generations."
"We could lose the monarch butterfly if we don't take immediate action to rein-in pesticide use and curb global climate change," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and co-author of the 2014 petition to protect monarchs under the ESA.
Roughly 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies. That population has been dangerously low since 2008. In the mid-1990s the population was estimated at nearly one billion butterflies, but this year's population is down to approximately 93 million butterflies.
This year's drop is attributed in part to unseasonal weather last year including late spring freezes that killed milkweed and caterpillars, and an unseasonably warm fall that kept late-season monarchs from migrating.
In 2014 conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. Monarchs are threatened by a host of sources destroying their habitat and food, but studies have shown that a main source of their catastrophic demise decline has been genetically engineered crops, engineered with resistance to Monsanto's Roundup pesticide, which has dramatically increased the pesticide use on their habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial decision was that endangered species protection may be warranted, and pursuant to a court victory the USFWS agreed to make a final decision by June 2019.
A 2016 study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that due to ongoing low population levels, there is between an 11 percent and 57 percent risk that the eastern monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years. Scientists estimate the monarch population needs to reach 225 million butterflies to be out of the danger zone.
Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development. The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides. In addition to glyphosate, monarchs are threatened by other herbicides including dicamba, Enlist Duo and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the central coast of California. Their numbers dropped to a five-year low of only 200,000 butterflies this year, down from 1.2 million two decades ago. A recent study found that if current trends continue, the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and more than an 80 percent chance of extinction within 50 years.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Center for Food Safety.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
At EcoWatch, our team knows that changing personal habits and taking actions that contribute to a better planet is an ongoing journey. Earth Day, happening on April 22, is a great reminder for all of us to learn more about the environmental costs of our behaviors like food waste or fast fashion.
To offer readers some inspiration this Earth Day, our team rounded up their top picks for films to watch. So, sit back and take in one of these documentary films this Earth Day. Maybe it will spark a small change you can make in your own life.
On Friday, Seal Rescue Ireland released Sesame the seal into the ocean after five months of rehabilitation at the Seal Rescue Ireland facility. Watch the release on EcoWatch's Facebook.
By Jordan Davidson
Guinness is joining the fight against single use plastic. The brewer has seen enough hapless turtles and marine life suffering from the scourge of plastic.
People of all ages are spending more of their day looking at their phones, computers and television screens, but parents now have another reason for limiting how much screen time their children get — it could lead to behavioral problems.