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Science and Innovations

USFWS: Monarch Butterfly Merits Federal Protection, But Backlog Delays Listing

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the monarch butterfly merits protection under the Endangered Species Act, but it won’t be listed immediately. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The butterfly’s status will be reviewed annually while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works on higher-priority species. Scientists have seen declines in North American monarchs over the last twenty years, especially in the western population. In California their numbers dropped from more than a million in 1997 to less than thirty thousand last year. Threats include habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides.
The Fish and Wildlife Service determined these threats are “imminent,” but the agency says a backlog must be cleared before the monarch can be listed as threatened or endangered. Currently 161 species have a higher priority status. The iconic orange-and-black butterflies migrate for thousands of miles in the fall and spring, and depend solely on milkweed during their caterpillar stage.

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Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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