TUCSON (CN) – Widespread destruction of milkweed by herbicides, particularly Roundup, is killing off the monarch butterfly in North America, and the government refuses to list the once plentiful species as threatened, environmental groups claim in court.
The Center for Food Safety and the Center For Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday in Federal Court.
Fish and Wildlife and the Secretary of the Interior have failed to make a final decision on their 2014 citizen petition to list the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Seeking a court-ordered deadline for a determination, the groups say Fish and Wildlife initiated a review of the butterfly’s status in late 2014, but has made “no further findings regarding the butterfly’s protection under the ESA.”
“Protecting monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act is essential to their survival, and further agency delay is unlawful and irresponsible,” Center for Food Safety attorney George Kimbrell said in a statement.
The butterfly’s Eastern population has declined by about 9 percent per year for the past 22 years, and by about 78 percent from its high in the mid-1990s, according to the complaint. West of the Rockies, the monarch population has fallen by about 39 percent from its “long-term average.”
The primary culprit is loss of milkweed, the butterfly’s essential plant, from widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate, also known as “Roundup,” according to the complaint.
“Glyphosate is uniquely effective at killing milkweeds, the only plants monarch larvae can eat,” the lawsuit states. “In the monarchs’ major Midwest breeding range, common milkweed has been nearly eradicated from cropland as a result of a massive increase in glyphosate use in conjunction with the nearly ubiquitous planting of glyphosate-resistant, ‘Roundup Ready’ corn and soybeans. Glyphosate use on ‘Roundup Ready’ cotton and alfalfa and in orchards has also destroyed milkweed in California, with a devastating impact on the monarch population west of the Rockies as well.”
The monarch also faces threats from habitat loss and climate change.
“From 1982 to 2010, the developed acreage in the continental United States increased by roughly 58 percent,” the lawsuit states. “Development causes direct loss of monarch butterfly habitat. It threatens monarch overwintering sites in coastal California and breeding, nectaring, and roosting sites throughout the country.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond to an email requesting comment on Thursday.
The groups are represented by George Kimbrell and Amy Atwood in Portland.
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