Is the EPA getting bullied over butterflies?

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.

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  1. The whole monarch butterfly migration “is endangered” and “needs saving” is even bigger than the “honey bees are in decline and threaten our food supply” scam of a few years ago. Why? They can still be filmed by the hundreds in numerous GMO farmland habitats across the upper Midwest, including Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, etc. where the monarch doomsday articles imply the butterflies have nearly vanished. Example: Lamberton, Minnesota is in the heart of GMO crop farmland and Univ. of Minn. employees shot this video last September: Some GMO crop farmers in the upper Midwest are themselves posting photos of large gatherings of monarchs on their farm property like this South Dakota farmer did on Sept. 4, 2014: Also, millions of milkweed plants still routinely grow in the 500,000+ miles worth of the upper Midwest’s mostly gravel farm road ditches that border the GMO crops.

  2. I think the article statement “There are multiple factors that may be affecting monarchs: Loss of habitat, weather and pesticides” is true for most if not all the problems for which ag is blamed i.e. food production. Agriculture, specifically roundup and treated seed, are being blamed for the so called decline of bees and butterflies when in my opinion there are multiple reasons for environmental problems, which most people don’t recognize or want to recognize. I watched the CNN outdoor program recently on honey bees and I too felt alarmed and then I read other articles that say there are more healthy honey bee hives today than 20 years ago. Even most of this article information is based on “readings”. The public, consumers, etc are not getting all the facts and truth which causes most of the misunderstanding and fuel for extreme groups. We are farmers, and I do think that we need to step up to the plate and do our part to have a positive footprint on our environment, just as other organizations and the public should do in their personal lives. Instead of constantly trying to defend our practices, agriculture should put out what we are doing and correct the areas that need correcting. In my opinion we need to stop using words in our discussions and writings that fuel emotion rather than reason, such as “bullying” in this article. A law suit was filed, I do not see that as “bullying”. If you’ve ever been bullied you know what that word means. Hopefully the court will sort this out in a reasonable manner. I think agriculture alienate people rather than presenting truth, by constantly defending the use of pesticides and other chemicals instead demonstrating acceptance of our part of the responsibility. I actually do think agriculture is paying attention and taking positive steps and that is what we need to put out to the public. There are good and bad in every profession and unfortunately there are farmers still practicing undesirable ways of farming and they get the attention instead of the vast majority that use best practices.

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