Monarch Butterfly

The latest status assessment says the population of monarch butterflies will continue to decline unless action is taken to protect it - and the probability for extinction of the western population is high. (Icewall42/Pixabay)

(St. Louis) -- After facing a steep population decline in recent years, the monarch butterfly is now a candidate for the 'threatened' species list under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the monarch does need protection - but limited resources have led the agency to prioritize other species first.

Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, monarch outreach coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, said the monarch is number eight on the list of threatened-species candidates.

She said causes for its decline include climate change and loss of habitat, as well as the use of herbicides. They kill native milkweed, the only plant where the butterflies reproduce and lay their eggs.

"Habitat connectivity is crucial to ease the monarch's journey by providing them shelter, food and water along the migratory pathway," said Quiñonez-Piñón. "And also we must protect the monarchs and their habitat from pesticides."

She said there's a need to scale up both public and private investments to restore these migratory pathways. Conservation groups say the rapid monarch population decline reflects the threats that other pollinators face as well.

Quiñonez-Piñón said there are actions that cities and states can take to help - even while they wait for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether the monarch will be covered under the Endangered Species Act.

She added that there are even actions that any Missourian can take.

"It has been proven that even within urban areas, small patches of native habitat are of great help for the monarchs," said Quiñonez-Piñón. "So, everyone can have a beautiful nectar and milkweed plant in their front yard."

St. Louis was the first city to sign the Mayor's Monarch Pledge, a commitment to create habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, as well as educate residents about how they can make a difference.

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