State Farm Bureaus across the country plan to collectively fight to keep the monarch butterfly from being listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Illinois Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Farm Bureau and California Farm Bureau Federation are leading the nationwide effort, called the Farm Bureau Monarch Project. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to decide whether to list the monarch by June 30, 2019.
“We need to be the voice of agriculture,” said Lyndsey Ramsey, IFB’s associate director of natural and environmental resources. “We’re not represented in the conversation, and they’re making decisions regardless of whether they hear from us or not.”
Meanwhile, various government, industry, conservation and environmental groups continue to study the monarch and develop conservation strategies that would, among other things, increase milkweed in summer breeding areas and add or protect wildflowers along the monarch’s migration path. Illinois plans to develop its own state plan as well.
Related: Supreme Court decision on monarchs could have ‘nationwide implications.’ Read more here.
In August 2014, environmental advocates petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting the monarch be listed as endangered. Ramsey said the groups assigned much of the blame for the species’ decline on agriculture, and the biotechnology and crop-protection tools many farmers rely on. In the 159-page petition, which includes more than 40 pages of references, the groups mentioned glyphosate 140 times, pesticides 114 times, neonicotinoids 88 times, Roundup Ready 62 times and genetically engineered 33 times.
The petitioners also urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the monarch within its listing.
Passed into law in 1973, the ESA prohibits federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its "critical habitat."
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, critical habitat means “the specific areas within the geographic area, occupied by the species at the time it was listed, that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of endangered and threatened species and that may need special management or protection. Critical habitat may also include areas that were not occupied by the species at the time of listing, but are essential to its conservation.”
Ramsey said how Fish and Wildlife defines a species’ critical habitat remains key.
“In the case of the monarch, if critical habitat is defined very broadly to not only be where milkweed exists, but where milkweed could exist, then the impact could be widespread,” Ramsey said. “Federal agencies may have to be consulted for simple things – from signing up for the Conservation Reserve Program, getting a Section 404 permit or applying pesticides.
“The monarch only highlights all the things that we think are wrong with the Endangered Species Act,” Ramsey said. “The implications are so severe and outlandish that you can’t possibly think that’s why the ESA was written. It will fundamentally change agriculture in the Midwest.”
IFB’s Conservation and Natural Resources Strength with Advisory Team last year researched the issue and proposed strengthening Farm Bureau’s policy on the ESA. The policy, approved by IFB delegates and by AFBF delegates, supports placing a moratorium on additional threatened and endangered species under the ESA in its current form, among other things.
What is the ESA?
Congress signed the ESA into law in 1973 to “conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems they depend on.”
When passed, it protected 109 species. Today, more than 1,660 domestic species remain on the list.
The ESA, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, does the following:
- Allows species to be listed as "endangered" or “threatened." Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
- Protects plants and all invertebrates.
- Applies broad "take" prohibitions to all endangered animal species and allowed the prohibitions to apply to threatened animal species by special regulation. Take means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” This also includes modifying habitat by impairing essential behavior patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering.
- Requires federal agencies to use their authority to conserve listed species and consult on "may affect" actions.
- Prohibits federal agencies from authorizing, funding or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its "critical habitat."
- Allows citizen lawsuits to enforce the act. Citizens must give 60-day notice and may sue individuals or the government for alleged violations of the ESA. Lawsuits can prompt a listing decision or critical designation. A February 2017 report by the United States Government Accountability Office found 141 lawsuits had been filed against the federal agencies for ESA violations during fiscal years 2005 through 2015. Most were related to missing deadlines for issuing findings on petitions to list species, according to the findings.
How ESA listing works
How does a species get listed under the ESA?
1) U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes listing a species:
- The agency must publish a notice of review that identifies species believed to meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species in the Federal Register.
- Public comment allowed for 60 days. A hearing may be held, if requested.
- A final rule will be issued, or the proposal will be withdrawn if there isn’t enough biological information to support the listing.
- A final listing generally becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
2) The public proposes it:
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife must decide within 90 days of receiving a petition whether there is “substantial information” indicating the listing may be warranted.
- Within one year of receipt, the agency must make a finding whether the listing is warranted. Higher-priority proposals can delay this determination.