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Conservationists fight for monarch butterfly protections

"We’re at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans," said Tierra Curry.
By Brooks Hays   |   Sept. 4, 2014 at 10:26 AM   |   Comments

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Monarch butterflies have begun their 3,000-mile trek southward; with summer coming to a close in Canada, it's time to make their way to Mexico for the winter. It sounds like a nice life, but it's a life that's increasingly under siege, scientists say. Now, some are arguing federal protections are warranted.

Studies show the monarch's milkweed habitat continues to lose out to industrial agriculture -- threatening the long-term health of the monarch species.

Now, both scientists and environmentalists are ramping the dialogue surrounding the butterfly's imperiled future and beginning to put pressure on policy makers.

In August, several environmental groups -- including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society and others -- filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the monarch protected.

"We're at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans," Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. "The 90 percent drop-off in the monarch's population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio."

Craig Wilson, senior Texas A&M research associate and butterfly enthusiast, agrees with Curry's sentiments and with researchers who blame the loss of breeding habitat for the decline. But Wilson says a decline in wildflowers like goldenrod is also detrimental to the monarch. Flowering plants like goldenrod provide a much-needed snack for monarchs during their lengthy late-summer migration.

"What is threatened is the migration, which is one of the most epic journeys in nature," Wilson said in a news release. "Other butterflies migrate, but not the single generation, the 3,000 miles ... that is what's quite incredible."

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