In December, we will reach the next step in a multi-year process to decide whether or not the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This process involves an in depth, scientific review of the current status of monarchs. As we await the findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), we’re diving into what has happened so far and the process behind the listing decision. Regardless of the outcome, monarch conservation will continue to be important and will require all hands on deck - including yours!
The initial petition to list the monarch butterfly under the ESA was filed in 2014 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society, and Dr. Lincoln Brower. The petition called for listing the monarch as a threatened species, which the ESA defines as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range”. So, while there are other populations, this petition specifically calls out the threat to the eastern and western populations of the North American monarch. The petition also includes arguments that the North American population of the monarch is threatened based on all five factors that the ESA considers: habitat, overuse, disease or predation, inadequate regulations, and other factors.
Once a petition is filed, the USFWS has 90 days to determine whether there is “substantial” information indicating that listing a species may be warranted. In 2014, the USFWS did determine that there was enough information to continue their investigation of the monarch butterfly, but this is just the first step in the process. Next comes a more indepth status review that can take 12 months or more. You may remember that this decision was originally due in June 2019, but the deadline was extended. The conclusions of this status review are now due on December 15, 2020. These results may be available to the public on the 15th, or there may be a slight delay before this decision is posted on the Federal Register.
So, what can we expect from the decision? There are three possible outcomes of the status review process. These are that listing the monarch butterfly under the ESA is:
(1) warranted; (2) not warranted; (3) warranted but precluded by higher priority species.
If listing is warranted, there will be a proposed ruling posted on the Federal Register which will include an explanation and rationale for the decision, an updated species status assessment, and any proposed rules. If listing is warranted, there will be a 60 day public comment period immediately following the proposal to solicit information. The USFWS must then make a final ruling on their proposal within 12 months. No additional protections under the ESA would be enacted until a final ruling is made.
If listing is not warranted, there will be no public comment period and the process ends. In order to be reconsidered, the process would start over with a new petition.
Regardless of the outcome, monarch conservation and continued engagement from public and private sectors is incredibly important. At Monarch Joint Venture, our vision is thriving monarch populations that sustain the monarch migration into perpetuity and serve as a flagship for the conservation of other plants and animals. Monarchs are intrinsically important, but as we explore in our ‘More than Monarchs’ series, conserving monarchs has the potential to impact other wildlife, people, and the environment, too. To give just a few examples, monarch habitat is shared with countless organisms, and conservation efforts will help mitigate the decline of many species, before they need protections under the ESA.
Proactive and voluntary conservation efforts are vitally important to preserving monarchs and pollinators. While we wait for a decision from the USFWS, we invite you to get involved with monarch conservation today!
- • Create pollinator habitat.
- • Participate in community science in your area.
- • Spread awareness about monarch declines and conservation opportunities.
- • Visit the 'Get Involved' section of our website for more ideas.
Thank you for caring about monarchs, pollinators, and our environment. We need all hands on deck to ensure thriving ecosystems for ourselves and future generations!
The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Cover photo by Laura Lukens.