Advocates for listing the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act are tired of waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make up its mind.
"We filed a notice of intent to sue so that they have to give us a date to make that decision on whether or not they're going to protect the monarch," says Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity which, along with other groups, petitioned the federal agency in 2014 citing an 80-percent decline in the monarch population over the past 20 years.
Curry says the monarch got an initial green light after a 90-day review, but then Fish and Wildlife had until December 2015 to issue its final ruling and thus far has not.
Monarchs have a wide range and a long, inter-generational migration that stretches from Canada to Mexico. They are found in 48 states, Curry says, but recent illegal logging near their winter grounds in Mexico highlights the need to protect the species. A listing as threatened, she says, would bring federal attention to the butterflies and their habitat.
"The (Fish and Wildlife) Service will proactively work with states and work with farmers to figure out the best way to make sure that America's food system is secure and there's still monarch butterflies," Curry says. "I don't think it's an either-or, I think farmers are definitely part of the solution to saving monarchs."
The Center for Biological Diversity cites use of herbicides on farm fields as one contributor to the decline of monarchs. But Curry says many small-scale efforts to protect monarchs are thriving around the country.
"It really does help when individuals plant milkweed," Curry says. "For a lot of endangered species, people feel kind of helpless and they're compassionate and they care but they don't know what to do. And so with the monarch butterfly, everyone can actually help."
For that reason, Curry says individuals and conservation groups working on projects to plant milkweed and nurture monarchs will be allowed to continue their efforts even if the species gets listed as threatened. People are usually barred from interacting with threatened or endangered species, but Curry says the petition for monarchs specifically asked for citizen efforts to be preserved.