Conservationists’ petition to protect monarch considered

“Monarque” by Mmtheriault — own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarque.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Monarque.jpg)
“Monarque” by Mmtheriault — own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarque.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Monarque.jpg)

Last August, research professor of biology Lincoln Brower joined the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act. On Dec. 29, the federal agency announced it will review the monarch’s status in response to the petition.

Brower and his colleagues, citing a roughly 90-percent decline in the monarch’s numbers in less than 20 years, argued that the need for federal protection is imperative and immediate.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” Brower said in an Aug. 26, 2014, news release.

Monarch butterflies flutter around Lincoln Brower during a research trip to their overwintering grounds in Mexico.
Monarch butterflies flutter around Lincoln Brower during a research trip to their overwintering grounds in Mexico.

The Fish and Wildlife Service found the petition presented “substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted.” Following the yearlong review, the service could decide protection is unwarranted, list the monarch as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Act, or find that protection is “warranted but precluded,” effectively placing it on a waiting list.

Brower is one of the world’s foremost experts on monarchs, having spent 60 years conducting field expeditions and lab explorations in an effort to understand its biology — including its annual migration from Canada and the U.S. to the high mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific papers, eight films, and edited two books, and is writing his magnum opus on the monarch butterfly. Education of the public and conservation of the species and its habitat lie at the heart of much of his work.

Brower, a research professor at Sweet Briar since 1997, is Distinguished Service Professor of Zoology, Emeritus at the University of Florida, where he spent the latter part of his teaching career after many years at Amherst College. He has a B.A. from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Yale.

In April 2014, he received the University of Missouri-St. Louis Harris Center Conservation Action Prize — adding to a list of awards and honors for his lifetime work.

Brower likens the monarch, known as much for its extraordinary annual migration as its orange and black coloring, to a priceless work of art such as the “Mona Lisa.” The butterflies have long captured the imagination of North Americans who look forward to their appearance in summer and fall, and they spawned a tourism industry in Mexico, where they amass by the millions in winter.

Although more monarchs are showing up in their wintering grounds this year, record low numbers in recent years grabbed headlines around the world. Last week’s announcement by the U.S. agency — a first step in a long and uncertain process — was met with similar interest by news outlets.

In Sunday’s News & Advance, Brower urged those who can support the petition to write to the Fish and Wildlife Service during the 60-day public information period ending March 2.