Butterflies and bees pollinate the world’s crops, wild plants, and flower gardens. But a dramatic spike in toxic pesticides has caused their populations worldwide to plummet. In 2015, 42 percent of honeybee colonies in the United States died. And today, the monarch butterfly population has dwindled to a mere fraction of its size in 1995. NRDC is fighting to restore butterfly and bee populations by pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate or scale down the use of dangerous agrichemicals by companies like Dow, Bayer, Monsanto, and Syngenta.
NRDC's scientists analyze the causes behind declining bee populations and press the government to restrict pesticides that are most deadly to bees. One of the primary threats is neonicotinoids, the most heavily used class of insecticides in the United States. Even at very low doses, these chemicals can kill bees on contact, but even at lower doses, they harm the ability of the insects to reproduce, forage, and navigate. That's why we filed a petition with the EPA to initiate immediate review of neonicotinoids and cancel the most bee-toxic uses, starting with ones for which safer alternatives already exist.
We are also pressing the federal government to rein in use of the principal threat to monarch butterfly survival: glyphosate, an herbicide found in popular weed killers like Roundup. As the production of genetically modified crops increases, so does the use of glyphosate. Farmers can douse fields with the herbicide without damaging GMO crops, which are engineered to be resistant to it. The crops survive, but other plants are devastated, including milkweed, the native wildflower that monarch caterpillars depend on for food. Over the past two decades, increased use of Roundup in the Midwest, which is home to half our nation’s monarchs, has reduced milkweed plants by nearly 60 percent and monarch populations by about 80 percent.
NRDC is pushing the EPA to restrict herbicides that kill milkweed. We have called for an immediate review of glyphosate and its impacts on butterflies. We have also asked the agency to require herbicide-free milkweed zones on farms and to limit glyphosate and other herbicides along monarch corridors. And we have sued to block the use of Enlist Duo, the next-generation herbicide for GMO crops, which the EPA approved in more than a dozen states in April 2015.
In the meantime, we encourage people to plant milkweed along the monarch migration route. NRDC helps launch state-level programs, including the Illinois Tollway Authority’s effort to create a "butterfly highway" by planting milkweed along 286 miles of road. And we partner with the group Monarch Watch to provide milkweed to schools, businesses, and residents so they can establish a larger network of monarch "way stations."