Kansas monarch expert questions butterfly's potential endangered species listing

"We need a ground-up sort of approach," said Chip Taylor.

By Brooks Hays
A monarch butterfly visits swamp milkweed. Photo by Derek Ramsey/CC.
A monarch butterfly visits swamp milkweed. Photo by Derek Ramsey/CC.

LAWRENCE, Kan., Jan. 6 (UPI) -- While beefier federal protections would likely be welcomed by most conservationists looking to save the monarch butterfly, one entomologist and monarch expert says the involvement of the federal government would be a step in the wrong direction.

In response to a petition encouraging stronger protections for the monarch butterfly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it would begin a status review of vulnerable species. The move has been cheered by a number of environmental groups. But not by Kansas University professor Chip Taylor.


Taylor, the founder of Monarch Watch, says federal regulations would be a distraction from what's needed to save the monarch butterfly -- an upswell of grassroots activism.

"Nobody wants the government to tell them what to do with their property," Taylor recently told the Lawrence Journal-World. "The real challenge is to get the message out and get the public involved. This really is the way to go."

"We need a ground-up sort of approach," Taylor added. "This can be solved by large-scale public participation."

While planting milkweed -- the preferred feeding and mating locale for the butterflies, and the only plant the caterpillars that turn into monarchs will eat -- in backyards may be helpful, the species's recent decline has been largely blamed on habitat loss at the hands of industrial agriculture.


Though a monarch advocate declining federal conservation assistance might sound surprising, tensions between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Kansas have grown increasingly strained since the agency designated the lesser prairie chicken as "threatened," making some land-use practices illegal.

But while federal conservation efforts may not always be to the liking of agricultural and business interests, the benefits to threatened and endangered species are pretty clear cut. A variety of iconic species have seen their numbers rebound as a result of a place on the endangered species list, including the gray whale, bald eagle, gray wolf, peregrine falcon and many others.

A study by Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation group, found that 93 percent of the plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act in the Northeast saw their numbers either stabilized or improved after being listed.

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