Today the Endangered Species Coalition has released its annual Top 10 Report – this year’s theme is Vanishing Wildlife: the top 10 species our children may never see. The report highlights species that have been in rapid decline and who, without our intervention, could soon be gone in areas where they once were plentiful. Chief among these is the monarch butterfly whose population has plummeted in the last decade from over a billion to just 33 million last year. Many people have memories of regularly seeing lots of monarchs and now report seeing very few.
The primary culprit has been the loss of milkweed – an important food source for monarchs – due to the widespread use of the herbicide known as Roundup. With the invention of genetically modified crops that are able to withstand the application of this herbicide in the late 90s, the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, skyrocketed and, as a result, the amount of milkweed in agricultural fields crashed.
The 90% decline in the North American monarch butterflies has been shocking. But all hope is not lost. These butterflies have the potential to rebound – if we can just get them what they need – more milkweed. Here at NRDC we are working to restore the monarch butterfly and its amazing migration back to its full splendor through two different strategies: by working to scale back the use of herbicides and by actively promoting the planting of milkweed.
Earlier this year, we filed a petition with EPA asking them to review the use of glyphosate in light of the impact it is having on monarch butterflies and to impose restrictions on its use. We also partnered with MonarchWatch to help fund the planting of milkweed across the landscape. We are also encouraging states to manage their roadsides for milkweed and other flowering plants - creating virtual butterfly highways across the US.
The good news is that it is within our ability to turn this story of tragedy into a story of hope. With enough milkweed we can ensure that rather than vanishing, monarchs come back to flourish for generations to come.