On December 15th the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a listing decision regarding the monarch butterfly. They found that the monarch is warranted for listing as endangered or threatened but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions. In essence, this means that the Service will keep an eye on the status of the monarch, but it receives no regulatory protections at the current time.
There are pluses and minuses to this decision.
Let’s start with the minuses. The overall population trend for the monarch has been and continues to be on a downward trajectory. The 2020 Thanksgiving count of western monarchs was a record low. Continued decline and possible extinction of the monarch and its unique migratory phenomenon would be a travesty for future generations. An endangered or threatened listing would provide the certainty of regulatory mechanisms and recovery measures that have helped species like the Bald Eagle recover from the brink of extinction.
In addition, the lack of an endangered or threatened listing may be perceived by some as a signal that the monarch is doing fine and that no additional conservation is needed. This is not necessarily true. There are many great efforts underway to restore monarch habitat across the country, but only time will tell how much of a positive impact will result from these efforts. And, while some of the restoration acreage numbers being reported are impressive, it’s not just acres of new habitat needed, but high-quality acres that will enable successful monarch reproduction and migration. Tools such as the Monarch HQT enable such assessments.
On the plus side the Service’s decision means that the monarch is now an official Candidate species. This status may spur the development and use of Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs), which have the potential to motivate increased participation in monarch recovery by farmers, ranchers, and corporations. Development of new CCAAs also provides an avenue for trying new cutting-edge, science-based approaches to conservation that are designed to better engage landowners and make conservation the norm rather than the exception. Motivating and sustaining more participation in conservation is essential to meet the habitat needs of the monarch and the many other pollinators that are in decline.