Tag Archives: monarch butterfly

EPA to withdraw controversial weed killer that was approved for Wisconsin

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to withdraw approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans.

The EPA announced in a court filing that it had received new information from manufacturer Dow AgroSciences that a weed killer called Enlist Duo is probably more toxic than previously thought.

EPA had approved Enlist Duo for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, and was likely to OK it for other states.

In a filing with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA said it “might not have issued the existing registration had it been aware” of the new information when it originally approved the product a year ago to be used with new strains of genetically modified corn and soybeans. EPA asked the court for the authority to reverse its decision while it reconsiders the herbicide in light of the new information, including whether wider buffer zones might be required to protect non-target plants.

The seeds are engineered to resist the herbicide, so farmers can spray the fields after the plants emerge and kill the weeds while leaving crops unharmed.

EPA’s move was welcomed by environmental and food safety groups that had sued to rescind approval of the potent new herbicide. But it is sure to create anxiety for the agriculture industry, since many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide now commonly used on genetically modified corn and soybeans. Enlist includes a combination of glyphosate and an updated version of an older herbicide named 2,4-D.

“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow AgroSciences issued a statement calling for rapid resolution of the matter, citing “the pressing needs of U.S. farmers for access to Enlist Duo to counter the rapidly increasing spread of resistant weeds” and predicting that “these new evaluations will result in a prompt resolution of all outstanding issues.”

EPA’s decision means that Enlist Duo, which is currently on the market, won’t be in wide use for plantings next spring. EPA hasn’t said whether farmers already in possession of the herbicide will be able to use it, and that could be a topic for future litigation, said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.

Critics say they’re concerned the increased use of 2,4-D could endanger public health and more study on the chemical is needed. The USDA has predicted that the use of 2,4-D could increase by an estimated 200 percent to 600 percent by the year 2020.

EPA had earlier said when approving the new weed killer that agency officials had used “highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks.” The EPA said at the time that the herbicide met safety standards for the public, agricultural workers and endangered species.

Now, EPA says it has “has received new information from Dow AgroSciences — the registrant of Enlist Duo — that suggests two active ingredients could result in greater toxicity to non-target plants.”

2,4-D is now used on other crops, including wheat, and on pastures and home lawns. It is the world’s most popular herbicide and the third most popular in the United States, behind atrazine and glyphosate.

Groups opposed to expanded use of 2,4-D’s say they are concerned about its toxic effects and the potential for it to drift. Corn and soybeans are the nation’s largest crops, and the potential for expanded use is huge. Critics also expressed concern that weeds eventually would become resistant to the combination herbicide as they have to glyphosate, something EPA had planned to revisit.

EPA had earlier required a 30-foot buffer zone where the herbicide couldn’t be sprayed and ordered farmers to stop spraying when wind speeds exceeded 15 miles an hour.

Illegal logging in Mexico further imperils monarch butterfly

Illegal logging more than tripled in the monarch butterfly’s wintering grounds In central Mexico, reversing several years of steady improvements, investigators announced Tuesday.

Almost all of the loss occurred in just one rural hamlet in the state of Michoacan. Loggers cut down 47 acres (19 hectares) of trees in San Felipe de los Alzati since last year’s gathering of butterflies. A total of 52 acres (21 hectares) of forest in the reserve were lost overall, including losses due to drought or pests.

That’s the highest figure since 2009, well above the 20 acres (8 hectares) lost in 2014, according to the announcement by the World Wildlife Fund and the Institute of Biology of Mexico’s National Autonomous University. The 2014 loss was about 12 acres (5 hectares) due to logging and 8 acres (3 hectares) to drought.

Illegal logging fell to almost zero in 2012, and experts stressed that 31 of the 32 communities in the reserve had kept logging down to very, very low levels.

The forest canopy is a sort of blanket against cold for the masses of orange-and-black butterflies that form huge clumps on tree branches during their winter stay in Mexico.

Loss of that habitat is just one of the threats to the butterflies’ amazing migration across Canada and the United States to Mexico. The migration is an inherited trait: No butterfly lives to make the full round trip, and it is unclear how they find the route back to the same patch of pine forest each year. Some scientists suggest the butterflies may release chemicals marking the migratory path and fear that if their numbers fall too low, the chemical traces will not be strong enough for others to follow.

This year butterflies that reached the wintering grounds covered 2.79 acres (1.13 hectares), a 69 percent rebound from last February’s 1.65 acres (0.67 hectare), which was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1993. Butterflies cluster so closely together that they are counted by the area they cover, rather than by the number of individuals.

At their peak in 1996, the monarchs covered more than 44.5 acres (18 hectares) in the mountains west of Mexico City. But the overall tendency since then has been a steep, progressive decline. Each time the Monarchs rebound, they do so at lower levels. The species is found in many countries and is not in danger of extinction, but experts fear the migration could be disrupted if very few butterflies make the 3,400-mile (5,470-kilometer) trip.

Largely Indian farm communities in the mountain reserve have received government development funds in return for preserving the 139,000-acre (56,259 hectare) reserve in the mountains west of Mexico City that UNESCO has declared a World Heritage site. Some of the communities earn income from tourist operations or reforestation nurseries to grow and plant saplings. Funding for the hamlet of San Felipe de los Alzati has temporarily been suspended due to the logging there.

The fact that most of last year’s loss also occurred in San Felipe indicates a growing problem there, said Omar Vidal, head of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico.

“The government has to step up enforcement and start talking more seriously with this community, to find out the causes” behind the logging, Vidal said. Some communities have complained that outside loggers _ sometimes armed _ invade local forests without the consent of the community. Other logging, however, has been the work of locals who few other job opportunities.”

After illegal logging felled hundreds of acres of trees in the reserve between 2003 and 2006, authorities cracked down on illegal sawmills and stepped up incentives to encourage communities to preserve the woods.

“The main problem in Mexico is the lack of protection,” said writer and activist Homero Aridjis, who noted that some officials at the reserve were replaced and that President Enrique Pena Nieto recently appointed his cousin, Alejandro del Mazo, to head the agency that oversees Mexico’s nature reserves.

Efforts to save the monarch butterfly grow across Iowa and the nation

Overwhelmed by global warming? See no solution to dirty water?

Save the monarch butterfly.

The iconic black-and-orange butterfly has become nature’s celebrity and a rallying symbol of agreeable, grass-roots environmentalism after news spread over the past two years of a stark decline in its population — 90 percent in the last 20 years.

The growing number of campaigns to save monarchs range from initiatives launched by President Barack Obama to those by an eastern Iowa Facebook group, from university research scientists to Iowa farmers. Even bicyclists in the middle of their own zany migration on RAGBRAI got into the act on a recent Friday, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1IqWLEB ) reported.

David Osterberg, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, helped mold milkweed seed balls to the size of a big marble for the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa group to hand out to RAGBRAI riders, who tossed them into ditches on the way out of Mount Vernon.

He said climate change involves complex layers of policy and deep social change, “but this is something we can do. We don’t see polar bears. The closest we get is a Coca-Cola advertisement. You’ve seen a monarch in your backyard; you’ve touched one.”

Monarchs danced in the breeze through our childhoods and inspired novels, documentaries and poetry. Their 3,000-mile migration from overwintering grounds in Mexico to the Canadian border and back again is a wonder of nature. But destruction to their overwintering grounds and habitat loss, especially along their migratory path through Iowa, has caused the decline. Along the way, monarchs lay eggs and dine upon several varieties of milkweed, largely eradicated from the row crop fields in Iowa, which cover two-thirds of the state.

Planting milkweed is seen as one answer to rally around. Efforts were mounted quickly on all levels.

The Obama administration launched a plan in March to increase the number of pollinators and monarchs by seeding habitat along the Interstate Highway 35 “monarch flyway” from Texas to Minnesota.

When it comes from the highest levels, says U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Doug Helmers, you know it’s a movement. As the private lands coordinator for the agency in Iowa, he has worked with Iowa landowners on a series of small patches of more than 10 acres of land to grow milkweed, using a $200,000 budget, half of it from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

He has seen more enthusiasm for the project than any he can remember.

“Whether you are urban or rural, people everywhere can identify with the monarch. You’ve seen them raised in school,” Helmers said.

Bicyclists played a part largely because Patty Ankrum of Mount Vernon remembers those childhood days.

“I went outside when I was in fourth grade. The trees were covered in orange and black,” she said. “I got a box and filled it with them. I laid the box on my bed and opened it. The whole room was filled with monarchs. It was 1963.

“Seeing a monarch now is an event, something you tell people about. There is a whole life in our countryside that just doesn’t seem to be there anymore because of lack of habitat.”

She started the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa Facebook group in March. It grew to 374 members. The group decided to enlist the bicyclists’ help by giving them 2,000 balls made of soil, compost and milkweed seed. She didn’t worry about farmers who had spent time and money for decades to get rid of it. “It’s not an issue for them anymore,” she said, citing crops genetically modified to resist weed-killing chemicals.

Farmers didn’t seem to mind.

“There is a place for everything,” said Tim Keegan, a farmer near Lisbon, where the riders passed after Mount Vernon. “We are always supportive of animals and insects like the monarch. We can manage things accordingly. Just so we know what we are dealing with.”

The monarch is even creating new factions of scientists, conservation and farm groups. Monsanto gives financial support for the milkweed seed distribution by Monarch Watch, the Kansas conservation organization that has galvanized the monarch movement. Several Iowa farm groups, including the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, have joined the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, established this year by Iowa State University Agriculture and Life Sciences and state agencies.

“It’s very unique, and other states are looking to emulate what we are doing here in Iowa,” said Sue Blodgett, an ISU entomologist.

The consortium grows nine different milkweed species at 12 ISU research farms to study their effectiveness for enhancing the monarch population. In general, common milkweed and swamp milkweed are two varieties suited throughout Iowa, but others may work depending on the location, such as butterfly milkweed.

“We want to make sure (the milkweed) is adapted to Iowa and we aren’t introducing something more suited for Massachusetts or Georgia. Botanists are concerned about those issues,” she said. “We need answers that are research based. It’s not just a matter of planting more milkweed, but how and where we plant it.”

Iowa is a critical area at the center of the migration, she said. Monarchs lay eggs on the plant and the caterpillar eats it. The adult butterflies also feed on the nectar from the flowers.

The monarch has become a de facto spokesman for pollinators in similar peril, such as bees vital to the web of plant reproduction, and as an indicator of our fragile relationship with nature.

Iowans hope to see the monarchs in greater numbers as they head back to Mexico in September. The number of overwintering monarchs did increase last year, according to Monarch Watch, but the recovery to prior decades would be a significant challenge.

That’s why Pella Wildlife Co. and other nonprofit groups have been busy distributing milkweed seeds to more than 1,200 people who signed up on its website to sustain monarchs and caterpillar adoption kits at its kiosk at Jordan Creek Town Center. It is also working with the Iowa Department of Transportation to establish 1,500 plants along I-35 and enlisting Iowa classrooms across the state to raise and release monarchs, said Ron DeArmond, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer.

The appeal of the monarch goes beyond science to art, said Iowa native Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch.

As a child in Manson she followed a flowing “butterfly highway” above her into the woods one day and shook the lower branches of a tree filled with them.

“Two hundred monarchs were dancing in the air around me,” she said.

Vetter-Drusch, 24, is a professional dancer today in New York City who started the nonprofit Moving for Monarchs. She has brought her program of dance and storytelling all along the migration path from Mexico to Iowa to relate the story of the imperiled monarch. She hopes people will submit their own dances inspired by the monarch and send them to her.

“The butterfly has always been a metaphor for dance,” she said.

In her presentations, people rise to dance like butterflies, a “cross pollination” to connect the monarchs’ story and our own.

“We don’t have time to wait for government,” she said. “This is a grass-roots movement, and we are acting as the catalyst.”

Conservationists warn of monarch butterfly decline

Conservation experts this week announced that a record low number of monarch butterflies returned this year to wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico and their annual migration is at “serious risk of disappearing.”

Monarchs, which migrate from Mexico across North America and back every year, have been in serious decline since the 1990s.

Experts believe the widespread use of glyphosate weed killer, sold as Round-Up, in connection with genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans, may be destroying once-widespread milkweed, which monarchs rely on exclusively for reproduction.

“This news raises a disturbing question that can no longer be ignored: Are our actions causing the rapidly dwindling population of monarchs?” said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We must urgently review the widespread use of glyphosate, which may be wiping out milkweed plants, essential for the Monarchs’ survival. It would be heartbreaking if we inadvertently destroyed in just a few years the millennia-old miracle of the Monarchs’ unique migration.”

The NRDC said Mexico estimated the winter population of monarchs at 33.5 million individuals. The estimate is a huge drop from a high of 1 billion in 1997 and down from a long-term average of 350 million over the last 15 years.

The decline also also epresents the ninth consecutive yearly measurement below the long-term average, according to the nonprofit enviromental group.