With Monarch butterfly numbers down by 90% in 20 years - largely as a result of GMO crops in key feeding areas - the US Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the insect's status with a view to granting it legal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for Monarch butterflies, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency will now conduct a one-year status review on monarchs, which have declined by 90% in the past 20 years.
The migratory butterflies are especially vulnerable as they migrate vast distances of 3,000 miles or more each year, between the US, Mexico and Canada. The migration cycle is unique in the natural world as it spans multiple generations.
"This journey has become more perilous for many monarchs because of threats along their migratory paths and on their breeding and wintering grounds", says the FWS.
"Threats include habitat loss - particularly the loss of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's sole food source - and mortality resulting from pesticide use. Monarch populations have declined significantly in recent years."
This important first move towards ESA protection comes in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower,
"Our petition is a scientific and legal blueprint for creating the protection that the monarch so direly needs, and we are gratified that the agency has now taken this vital first step in a timely fashion", said George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney for Center for Food Safety.
Path to extinction propelled by GMO crops
The butterfly's dramatic decline is being driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born.
The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields.
In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat - an area about the size of Texas - including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.
Sarina Jepsen, the Xerces Society's endangered species director, said: "Protection as a threatened species will enable extensive monarch habitat recovery on both public and private lands."