Endangered Species ActMonarchs

Monarchs and the Endangered Species Act

Where are the monarchs now?

The monarchs are well into their northward journey and are being seen as far north as northern Nebraska, North Dakota and Minnesota. Follow their migration at Journey North.

May 19 is Endangered Species Day, commemorated annually to raise awareness and promote the conservation of endangered species around the world. The day serves as a reminder of the critical need to protect and preserve our planet's biodiversity, recognizing the irreplaceable value that each species brings to our ecosystems. 

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which was signed into U.S. law on December 28, 1973. Farmers for Monarchs recently spoke with Rachel London, manager of the Branch of Delisting and Foreign Species at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to better understand the Act's impact, with a particular focus on pollinators and insects. The interview shed light on the distinction between threatened and endangered listings, showcased the positive role farmers play in species recovery, and provided an update on the highly anticipated listing decision for the iconic monarch butterfly.

London detailed the difference between threatened and endangered listings under the Endangered Species Act. She explained that an endangered species is one facing the imminent risk of extinction. On the other hand, a threatened species is not currently endangered but is expected to face the risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. 

“The difference in the management of threatened species is that we can then also issue a rule…that allows us to incentivize proactive conservation efforts. It's a great tool for conservation,” said London.

There has been great success from these proactive efforts, especially when they are deployed through public/private collaborative partnerships. One compelling success story discussed during our interview involved the Fender's blue butterfly, which was once thought to be extinct. Listed as endangered in 1989, this small butterfly is native to upland prairies in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Habitat loss due to agricultural and urban development posed a significant threat to its survival. By partnering with private landowners, including farmers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service embarked on habitat restoration efforts.

“We were actually able in January of this year to downlist the status of the butterfly from endangered to threatened as we see it recovering. So, we're making really good progress, thanks to the efforts of farmers and other private landowners,” said London. “This is relevant to monarchs as well.”

In December 2020, the Service found that adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species is warranted but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions. London also touched upon the impending listing decision for the monarch butterfly, which has garnered considerable attention in recent years. She provided important insights into the timeline for the decision and what that decision could mean for farmers. A settlement agreement has been reached to publish a proposed rule by September 30th, 2024, if listing is still warranted. If a proposed rule is published, it will open a public comment period requesting additional information that will inform the final rule.

London reiterated that no decision has been made on the listing status of the monarch. But whether or not the monarch butterfly is officially listed on the Endangered Species List, history has shown that through collaborative initiatives, we can work towards sustainable solutions, promoting responsible practices that harmonize farmer operations with the preservation of monarchs and other pollinators.