How Trump Could Doom the Monarch
Butterflies are among the migrants threatened by this administration’s policies
The large-winged, orange-and-black monarch butterfly has been the symbol of childhood summers spent outdoors for generations of Americans.
Millions of schoolchildren have learned about metamorphosis by watching their hungry caterpillars chomp through milkweed leaves, hide away in a green-and-gold chrysalis and emerge with wings like stained glass.
In late summer monarchs undertake an amazing migration, flying from the northern United States and Canada to fir forests in the mountains of central Mexico. We still haven’t unraveled the mystery of how they find their way to the very same trees in which their great-great-grandparents overwintered.
The monarchs arrive in Mexico in time for Day of the Dead celebrations and cluster tightly on evergreen trees, turning them orange. There are so many monarchs that the fluttering of their collective wings sounds like a rushing stream. But the forests monarchs rely on to survive the winter are in trouble — and so are the butterflies.
Monarch populations have declined by more than 80 percent over the past two decades. They’ve lost about 165 million acres of their summer breeding habitat in the United States to industrial agriculture and suburban sprawl. Scientists estimate there is a nearly 60 percent chance the migration could collapse by 2040.
These beloved butterflies are in desperate need of protection across their range, but the actions of the Trump administration are likely to spell their doom. Here’s why.
The butterflies once thrived in farm fields, but now the vast majority of corn is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. As the fields have been drenched in herbicide and become so-called “corn deserts,” the milkweed that provides the only food for caterpillars has been largely wiped out. Monarchs are also harmed by neonicotinoid insecticides which kill young monarch larvae.
For the monarch migration to survive for future generations, the United States needs to greatly reduce the widespread use of these poisons in agriculture.
Donald Trump, however, is cozy with the pesticide industry and opposes environmental regulations. As long as he’s president, the future of the monarch will continue to be undermined by agrochemical corporations.
The monarch has special significance not only in the United States but also in Mexico and Canada. It symbolizes international cooperation, and saving it will require collaboration among all three countries. Under the Obama administration, the leaders of those three countries met and discussed ways to ensure the well-being of the butterfly. The Trump administration, however, has acted with open hostility to Mexico, undermining goodwill for cross-border conservation initiatives necessary for monarchs to recover.
The monarch’s annual migration across these countries had made it a symbol of free migration; under Trump’s hyper-aggressive deportation policies, it has become a symbol of political sanctuary. Indeed, schools in Chicago serving as safe places for immigrants are marking the buildings with monarch signs.
The monarch butterfly, as well as one-third of all species on Earth, is threatened with extinction due to global climate change. Severe storms, drought, temperatures too hot for young caterpillars and the complete loss of their overwintering forests in the mountains of Mexico threaten their existence.
Models show that even Mexico’s Monarch Biosphere Reserve — where monarchs live in winter — could become climatically unsuitable for them in the coming decades.
Scientists agree that aggressive action now is needed to prevent climate change’s most catastrophic effects, but with the Trump administration in the hands of the fossil fuel industry, that change will not come soon enough.
That’s why the Center for Biological Diversity — where I’m a senior scientist in the endangered species program — and our allies have submitted a scientific petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the monarch.
The decision on whether to protect the butterfly will be issued in 2019 by the Trump administration, which is openly hostile to endangered species and wants to weaken the protections the lifesaving Endangered Species Act gives to imperiled wildlife. Plus, some Republicans in Congress want to abolish the law in its entirety. So the prospect for federal monarch protection is bleak.
The monarch is in dire need of immediate safeguards. Without federal protections it could be doomed to extinction. Preserving endangered species should not be a political issue, but unfortunately the Republicans in power are hell bent on eliminating wildlife protections. The future of the once-common monarch butterfly could very well be doomed by Donald Trump’s presidency — unless we stand up and tell him how much we care about keeping these wild creatures alive in the world.