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Groups seeking restoration of habitat for monarch butterflies pursue lawsuit

News release: “Two environmental groups are threatening legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s failure to determine the federal protection status of monarch butterflies. “We can’t force them to protect monarchs but we can force them to make a decision,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups who launched the lawsuit. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety yesterday filed the notice of intent to sue, citing an 80 percent decline in monarch populations over the past two decades and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to respond to a petition requesting federal protection. The lawsuit seeks to force the agency’s hand in deciding whether or not to list the monarchs as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The orange and black butterflies, which can be found throughout the U.S. in the summer and in Mexico mountain forests in the winter, are not only a charismatic and beautiful species, but also a sentinel for an ecosystem out of whack. Their numbers have been plummeting. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the population dropped from about 1 billion to 56 million over the past two decades. The major problem is habitat loss. Monarchs lay eggs only on milkweed plants—the only food their larvae can eat. Milkweed has been on the decline as prairies are increasingly converted into farms. Scientists also point to an uptick in use of genetically modified crops that can withstand large doses of herbicides. Milkweed often grows near crops such as soybeans and corn in the Midwest and dies from the herbicides. Researchers estimate that there was a 58 percent decline in milkweeds in the Midwest from 1990 to 2010, which paralleled an 81 percent decline in Midwest monarchs during that time.”

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