Press Release

EPA Agrees Monarch Butterflies are in Jeopardy, But Refuses to Use Authority to Limit Habitat-Killing Pesticide

EPA Denies NRDC’s Petition to Limit Glyphosate, Wants More Time to Study the Well-Known Problem

WASHINGTON (June 24, 2015) —  Confronted with the urgent and growing crisis of the imperiled monarch butterfly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today utterly failed to seize an opportunity to use its authority to limit the use of glyphosate (originally marketed as Roundup), the pesticide that is destroying monarch habitat. The EPA informed the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that the agency denied NRDC’s petition filed in February, 2014 asking for an immediate review of glyphosate and its impact on monarchs, and for measures to limit the harm the chemical is causing to the species.  (See below for timeline of action by NRDC on behalf of the monarch.)

“The EPA apparently plans to study the monarch migration to extinction,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist and director of its Wildlife Conservation Project. “Everyone loves the monarchs, including the Obama White House. But love isn’t going to save monarchs from glyphosate. It’s inexcusable for the EPA to call for more time to show glyphosate’s harm while at the same time approving new glyphosate-based pesticides that kill the sole food source monarchs need to live,” said Fallon.

In denying NRDC’s petition, the EPA cited work already in progress to protect the butterfly spurred by the release of the White House Pollinator Task Force Plan last month. In addition, the agency noted ongoing international work with Mexico and Canada to protect the unique monarch migration that is at risk of disappearing, largely due to the skyrocketing use of glyphosate, which wipes out milkweed plants where butterflies lay their eggs.

NRDC is aware of both initiatives identified by the EPA, but remains concerned that even a broad scientific consensus that glyphosate is destroying monarch habitat  is not enough to activate the EPA to exercise its full legal authority to limit glyphosate use. While applauding the White House for elevating the urgency of the plight of pollinators, NRDC urged the EPA to follow through with an expedited review of pesticides, particularly given the mounting scientific evidence of their danger to butterflies.

Since EPA last reviewed the safety of glyphosate in 1993, its use has increased ten-fold, yet the agency has never considered the herbicide’s impact on monarchs. And just last year, the agency approved use of a new glyphosate-containing herbicide for genetically modified crops, Enlist Duo, which could further damage monarch populations. NRDC filed a lawsuit to block its use, which is pending.

The monarch butterfly, an iconic North American species that makes a unique 2,500 mile annual migration from the mountains of central Mexico to Canada and back, has been in serious decline for 15 years. Once numbering as many as a billion, only 56.5 million of the orange-and-black winged pollinators were counted last month at their Mexican refuge, the second lowest total ever. At its current size, the population could be wiped out by a severe weather event.

Experts say the primary cause for the population collapse is the skyrocketing use of the herbicide glyphosate on genetically modified corn and soybeans, which has wiped out much of the milkweed -- a native wildflower -- that monarchs need to survive.

Monarchs need milkweed because it is the only plant on which they lay their eggs, and the only food their larvae will eat. In its original petition, NRDC asked EPA to consider requiring glyphosate-free buffer zones near crops where milkweed could flourish, and banning the herbicide from use along highways and utility rights of way.

Since then, NRDC has launched a program to promote the planting of milkweed by school groups, backyard gardeners, and others. It also successfully urged the Illinois Tollway Authority to plant milkweed along the 286 miles of highway it controls in Illinois, where the monarch is the state insect.

Next week NRDC advocates are traveling to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site meeting next week in Bonn, Germany, to spur the U.S. and Canada to increase protections for the monarch by limiting glyphosate use and promoting programs to restore milkweed.
For more information, see Sylvia Fallon’s blog

NRDC Timeline on Glyphosate:
February 24, 2014 – NRDC petitions EPA to limit the use of glyphosate due to its impact on the imperiled monarch butterfly
October 15, 2014 – EPA approves use of Enlist Duo, a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D; NRDC files lawsuit challenging the approval
February 15, 2015 – NRDC sues EPA to force action on Monarch butterflies
March 20, 2015 – WHO classifies glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen
May 4, 2015 – EPA agrees to respond to NRDC petition by July 31, 2015
June 23, 2015  – EPA denies NRDC petition to restrict glyphosate use
June 28, 2015 – NRDC advocates travel to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site meeting in Bonn, Germany to spur the U.S. and Canada to increase protections for the monarch by limiting glyphosate use and promoting programs to restore milkweed.

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