According to the old saying, March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. The first part proved all too true this year. In fact, the lion was old, mean, ugly, and he bit. Which is why I am writing this article under the influence of cold medicine that is not working fast enough. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s proceed to something legal.
On February 27, 2015, an international environmental group, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sued the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court in New York, accusing regulators of failing to protect the Monarch butterfly. This headline caught my attention for several reasons. At first glance, I found it amusing that a big group was bullying the EPA. Karma? Also, butterflies made me think of spring, so I did a little online investigation.
After about 10 minutes of reading, I’m not so sure the motives of this case are truly preserving the butterfly. The complaint specifically details EPA’s disregard of the dangers that glyphosate poses to the monarch butterfly population. This broad-spectrum herbicide is commonly known as Roundup, courtesy of Monsanto that developed and brought it to market. Think maybe the anti-GMO community has something to do with this litigation? I do. Especially after I read about recent governmental efforts to save the monarch.
Saving butterflies is a good thing, and we, as a country, need to do this. But targeting just one potential issue in the courthouse seems a little suspect to me. Monarch butterflies in the United States and Canada migrate 2,500 miles to their wintering habitat in Mexico (even farther than some grain farmers around here) and back again. This year, was the second-lowest number migrating, down to 56.5 million butterflies; there were once billions.
In response to the allegations in the lawsuit, the EPA said something I hope to use the next time I see them in court. There are multiple factors that may be affecting monarchs: Loss of habitat, weather and pesticides. Oh if the EPA only understood that concept when they were on the warpath about algae in Grand Lake, or persecuting farmers for manure application, to name a few.
I read another article that detailed recent government efforts to save the monarchs. Since the butterflies eat poisonous milkweed in their larval stage and lay their eggs on the milkweed plants, gardeners were encouraged to plant milkweed. Except they did not advise them to plant the northern milkweed, asclepias incarnata, which dies off annually. Instead, good intentions caused serious problems for the monarchs. Gardeners planted asclepias curassavica which does not die off, so the butterflies did not migrate, they stayed in the southern U.S. for the winter. In so doing, the wrong milkweed plants became infected with a protozoan parasite that causes wing deformities in adult monarchs and can infect the young monarchs. When feeding of the proper milkweed that dies, the parasites die off. Furthermore, the infected monarchs are weeded out during the migration to Mexico. Since that did not happen, we now have infected monarchs to deal with, as well as dwindling numbers.
On February 9, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a cooperative agreement with the National Wildlife Federation to tackle the issue of the declining monarch population. The Service will provide $1.2 million with matching funds from non-governmental entities. In addition, $2 million of conservation projects, including 200,000 acres of dedicated habitat with the appropriate milkweed and other appropriate plants, as well as 750 schoolyard and pollination gardens will be funded and built. The effort will focus on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, which is the monarchs’ annual migration path.
Let’s hope the government agencies can all work together to save the monarch butterfly without demonizing American agriculture. It seems to me that monarch habitats are the answer. So long as the butterflies have appropriate milkweed from dedicated acreage, there is no need to ban glyphosate. I only hope the courts and the parties involved can reach this resolution in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, I am ready for spring. And I hope the lamb March leaves with is sweet, cuddly and affectionate.