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Western monarch butterflies: What does it mean to be on the Endangered Species waiting list?

Posted at 12:25 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-19 01:06:14-05

Monarch butterflies are now on the waiting list for being named an Endangered Species.

Right now, there are around 160 species in front of the monarch waiting to be listed as well. With a dwindling population, experts say the insects need to be listed soon before they go extinct.

There are currently around 180 monarchs at the Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach. That's compared to roughly 6,700 last year, according to State Parks. The overall population of the country's most widely recognized butterfly is diminishing rapidly as well.

"The western monarch population has declined from around 1,200,000 butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 2,000 butterflies in the most recent count this Winter," said Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity Senior Scientist.

A more than 99% population decline is sounding the alarm for scientists like Curry.

Back in 2014, there was a petition submitted by the Xerces Society along with the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety among others to protect the insects under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife made a 90-day finding and then a one-year status review which ended up taking six years, wrapping up just this week.

"They said that it is in a lot of trouble," Curry said. "That it warrants protection but that they don't have the resources to protect it at this time so they put it on the waiting list."

The species on the candidate list are reviewed usually every October. So in the Fall of 2021, the Biden Administration can propose the monarch for listing.

Right now, it's in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's plan for a final decision in 2024.

"We know western monarchs can't wait that long," said Emma Pelton, Xerces Society Senior Conservation Biologist.

Because monarchs are in so much trouble, experts say they're going to push for it to be listed sooner.

"We think it needs to happen tomorrow, obviously, but it's very hard for us to look at their budget. That's kind of left up to their review," said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety Legal Director.

Loss of milkweed, pesticides, climate change, fires, storms, and logging have all impacted the population.

Ultimately, once on the list, monarchs will instantly gain federal protection from any source of potential harm.

"I think it's a moment where people can get really depressed with how low the numbers are but I do think something to keep in mind is these animals are really resilient so again, we aren't giving up hope," Pelton said.

There are around 1,700 species on the Federal Endangered Species list right now, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.