NRDC Sues EPA to Force Action on Monarch Butterflies

WASHINGTON (February 27, 2015)—The Natural Resources Defense Council today accused the Environmental Protection Agency of dragging its feet on efforts to save the imperiled monarch butterfly and filed suit to force the agency to act.

EPA’s failure to respond to an urgent petition that sought to limit the use of a pesticide that’s been destroying monarch habitat, filed more than a year ago by NRDC, has resulted in “significant ongoing harm” to the vulnerable butterfly population, according to the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in New York City.

“The longer EPA delays, the greater the risk we could lose the monarch migration,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist and director of its Wildlife Conservation Project.

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.

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

NRDC filed an urgent petition last February with EPA, 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. EPA has failed to respond to the petition, and given no public explanation for its silence. Today’s suit seeks a court order to force EPA to respond to the petition.

In the intervening year, however, the agency has approved use of a new glyphosate-containing herbicide for genetically modified crops, Enlist Duo, which could further damage monarch populations. NRDC earlier filed a separate suit to block its use. That suit is pending.

The EPA must act promptly, the new suit says, because the current population of migrating monarchs is dangerously small. At its current size, the population could be wiped out by a severe weather event. In 2002, a major snowstorm in Mexico killed more than 80 million (out of approximately 100 million) monarchs wintering in Mexico, a number greater than the current total population.

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.

A copy of the suit is here:

For background, see Sylvia Fallon’s blog:


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