Lawsuit compels EPA to respond to petition on monarch butterfly crisis

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Last year NRDC filed a petition with EPA asking it to evaluate the widespread use of the weed-killer glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup) because of the pesticide's devastating impact on Monarch butterflies, whose population has plummeted by over 90%. Roundup kills milkweed, a native wildflower that monarch butterflies need to survive. But despite widespread recognition of the link between glyphosate and the decline of monarchs, EPA has done nothing. After a year without an answer to our Petition, we filed a lawsuit to compel the agency to respond. Today, as a result of that lawsuit, EPA has agreed to reply to our petition by July 31.

This doesn't guarantee that EPA will take action to restrict glyphosate - which additionally was determined to be a 'probable carcinogen' by the World Health Organization earlier this year - but EPA will finally be forced to publically respond to NRDC's petition on this urgent and growing crisis.

Our efforts to address the harm glyphosate causes monarch butterflies will not end with this single legal action. NRDC will continue to fight to get the EPA to take steps to reduce the harm from Roundup to human health and to the iconic and imperiled monarch butterfly. Urgent action is required, as the use of glyphosate in connection with genetically modified crops (ie Roundup Ready crops) has skyrocketed to at least 182 million pounds per year, ten times higher than the annual use of the chemical in the early 1990s when EPA last evaluated it. Adding insult to injury, EPA has approved the use of a new weed killer, EnlistDuo, which combines glyphosate with 2,4 D, without adequately evaluating the risks to public health or considering the impact on the monarch population - a decision we are also challenging.

Monarchs are in perilous decline, with only one-tenth of its population surviving its winter migration to the wintering grounds in Mexico. The population has dropped from approximately 1 billion in 1997 to a little over 56 million this winter. Because the dramatically increased use of glyphosate has decimated milkweed, the sole food source of monarch caterpillars, the consensus among butterfly scientists is that high levels of glyphosate use is likely the single most significant cause of the monarch's decline.

As spring planting gets underway on farms across America, it's time for EPA to recognize and mitigate the harm to the monarch butterfly. Monarchs need milkweed to live, but widespread use of glyphosate pesticides is wiping out milkweed and the monarch population. Furthermore, EPA's approval of additional pesticides like Enlist Duo only creates an escalating arms race of increasingly toxic pesticides. EPA needs to break this cycle and live up to its mandate to protect human health and the environment. By reigning in the use of glyphosate and other pesticides it would be doing both.

Photo: female monarch. Credit: Margaret Hsieh.

About the Authors

Sylvia Fallon

Senior Director, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

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