Federal agency to continue monitoring monarch butterfly

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced it will leave the monarch butterfly off the endangered species list and will continue to monitor and review its candidacy for listing annually.

America’s farmers welcome the U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision to continue monitoring the health of the monarch butterfly population,” American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable pollinators in North America, with an annual migration that takes the striking orange and black insects from Canada to Mexico.

Texas covers a large portion of the monarch butterflies migratory flyway corridor.

Each spring, monarchs leave their overwintering grounds in Mexico and migrate north into Texas, the Great Plains, and the Midwest, finally reaching the Great Lakes. By late summer, monarchs have spread up into Canada and eastward from the central migratory corridor to other northeast and southeast states, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The monarchs reverse the migratory pattern every fall and head south to Mexico for the winter.

Texas is an important state to migrating monarchs because the butterflies come through Texas both in the fall and spring, using one of two well-documented flyways in the state, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

In 2014, FWS received a petition to list the species and published a substantial 90-day finding in December 2014. In 2016, the agency began an in-depth status assessment, looking at the global population, as well as focusing on monarchs in North America, where 90 percent of the world’s population is located.

Now, after a thorough assessment of the monarch butterfly’s status, FWS has found adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species is “warranted but precluded.”

The monarch will now be a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its status will be reviewed each year until it is no longer a candidate.

They conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the ESA. However, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions. While this work goes on, we are committed to our ongoing efforts with partners to conserve the monarch and its habitat at the local, regional, and national levels. Our conservation goal is to improve monarch populations, and we encourage everyone to join the effort.

The ESA provides for a warranted but precluded finding when FWS does not have the resources to complete the listing process because the agency must first focus on higher-priority listing rules.

Extreme weather conditions in overwintering and breeding grounds, illegal logging of forests in Mexico and a decline in milkweed and nectar-producing plant availability in the species’ upper Midwestern breeding grounds were all cited by TPWD as threats to the monarch population in TPWD’s 2016 report, the Texas Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan.

Other groups have pointed to herbicide use by farmers and ranchers as a main culprit in the monarch butterfly’s population decline, although there is a lack of scientific evidence pointing to that conclusion.

Preserving natural surroundings for America’s wildlife has long been a priority for America’s farmers and ranchers. More than 140 million privately owned farm and ranch acres are enrolled in voluntary conservation programs, providing habitats for countless animals and insects, including the monarch. Farm Bureaus across the country have been involved with state and regional planning efforts for the monarch—joining forces with the energy and utility sectors, those who manage natural areas and our urban hubs across the country—to meet ambitious goals for the species. The warranted but precluded decision will give all stakeholders time to continue conservation and research efforts.

More than half a million acres are currently set aside specifically to provide habitat for bees and butterflies, Duvall added. Farm Bureaus across the nation have played important roles in education and outreach efforts that have increased habitat across monarch flyways.

AFBF is also a member of Farmers for Monarchs, an organization committed to protecting pollinator populations through voluntary habitat restoration and enhancement efforts.

For more information on monarch butterfly population health in Texas, visit TPWD’s monarch butterfly page.

New COVID relief package includes ag assistance

Congress agreed on a $900 billion COVID stimulus package late Monday night. The package includes up to $13 billion earmarked for agriculture.

Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) is pleased Congress has acted to provide roughly $13 billion in additional direct assistance to farmers and ranchers who continue to struggle with uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

The bi-partisan bill includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and $1.4 trillion in fiscal spending.

With the COVID relief package, many farmers and ranchers who were previously left out of aid will now qualify, as well as those who have received assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in government programs earlier this year.

Supplemental assistance will be provided for farmers with crops included under the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to help with the many challenges they have faced this year. Additional support is secured for cattle ranchers who have experienced extreme market volatility due to the pandemic. The legislation creates a livestock dealer trust to protect ranchers from dealer payment default, which provides additional coverage for ranchers during the uncertainty of COVID-19 and moving forward.

Dairy farmers will also see more support provided through Dairy Margin Coverage and other dairy donation programs. Provisions are included in the bill to address supply chain issues and to aid with livestock and poultry contract growers.

TFB and the American Farm Bureau Federation worked to ensure the needs of farmers and ranchers were considered during the latest stimulus package negotiations.

Highlights of the coronavirus stimulus bill include:

80 percent reimbursement for losses due to premature euthanization or canceled orders

$20 per planted acre for non-specialty crops.

Crop insurance payments and disaster payments may be used to calculate 2019 sales.

$7 billion is allocated for broadband, including $300 million for rural broadband and $250 million for telehealth.

Paycheck Protection Program funding may be used for COVID mitigation expenses.

Expenses paid with Paycheck Protection Program loans will now be allowed as a tax deduction

15% increase in SNAP benefits.

We thank the many Congressional leaders in Washington who worked diligently to provide meaningful end-of-year support to Texas’ farm and ranch families. We look forward to our continued work in the new year.

In addition, the pandemic-related provisions, the omnibus included critical funding for other agriculture-related needs, such as funding to combat cattle fever ticks and feral swine.

It also includes an anomaly to fully fund the commitments made to farmers under the Wildfires and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) for both 2018 and 2019 crop years. Texas Farm Bureau will continue working with leaders of Congress and other states to provide an extension of WHIP+ for the 2020 crop year.