It would be hard for any nature lover not to be troubled by
the diminishing monarch butterfly population, but a recent request to have that
species listed as endangered by the U.S. government is being criticized even by adamant butterfly
supporters. That’s because some believe
the ruling would have unintended consequences that threaten the butterfly’s
existence even further.
David Folk, an NFIB member, owns a butterfly farm in
Nescopeck, Pennsylvania. He started it
ten years ago as a direct result of his daughter Kristie’s Future Farmers of America
school project and it has grown each year.
The business’ goal is to raise monarchs to sell for release and improve the
butterfly’s habitat, all of which has a positive impact on the local community.
Folk’s Butterfly Farm supplies the
winged creatures to many local schools and offers free community educational
programs. But David Folk says his
business, which promotes increasing the count of monarchs, will go extinct if
the species is listed as endangered.
If declared endangered, no butterflies would be released by students,
garden clubs or citizen scientists because it would be illegal for humans to
have contact with the monarch. Those who’ve
asked the government to list the monarch as endangered say students should just
collect eggs or larva from the wild, which would highly limit classroom opportunities
to learn about butterfly life cycles and metamorphosis and stop the student’s release
of those butterflies.
It is generally agreed that herbicides are partially
responsible for a decline in milkweed, the only food eaten by the monarch caterpillar,
which is contributing to the butterfly’s disappearance. Farmers growing corn and soybeans now primarily
use genetically altered varieties which are herbicide tolerant but the
herbicide kills off milkweed.
If the monarch is listed as endangered, restrictive land use
controls would be placed on land where milkweed grows, which could economically
paralyze farmers. That could create an
incentive to quickly kill off any milkweed before the butterfly is declared endangered
to avoid government controls on private land, which would hurt the survival of
the monarch butterfly even further.
David Folk believes the solution is a nationwide effort to plant
milkweed, not listing the species as endangered. The group Monarch Watch is encouraging the
planting of milkweed with funding from the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as
private concerns. Farmers are also planting buffers with milkweed to help the
effort. Interestingly, the latest 2015
annual butterfly count shows an increase from 34 million to 56.5 million. Whether that’s due to better weather, or the
planting of milkweed isn’t clear.
It’s worth noting that the U.S. House Natural Resources
Committee recently released a report questioning the impartiality and accountability
of the process used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine what species
are listed as endangered. Pennsylvania
Rep. Glenn Thompson has introduced a bill that would require strong scientific
proof that restricting a species habitat will make a difference in its welfare and
it asks the economic impact be considered.