MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
One of the most notable insects in North America is in trouble. Federal wildlife officials announced today that monarch butterflies deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act, but they won't get it. Why not? NPR's Nathan Rott explains.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: What the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said today is that declines in monarch butterfly populations are so severe that they do warrant federal protections, but they're precluded from getting them because of limited resources. It would be kind of like your dentist saying, yeah, you need to get that cavity filled, but we've only got so many fillings, so get in line. And the line for monarchs is long. The Fish and Wildlife Service says 161 other species have priority nationally, which makes today's announcement bittersweet for people like Sarina Jepsen.
SARINA JEPSEN: On one hand, I'm really happy to see that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that monarchs are threatened with extinction.
ROTT: On the other, they're not doing much about it. Jepsen is with the Xerces Center for Invertebrate Conservation (ph), which helps count monarch populations every year. And the trend line, she says, is alarming.
JEPSEN: I really don't think that monarchs can wait indefinitely for protection.
ROTT: As recently as the 1990s, there were millions of monarch butterflies fluttering through backyards and across fields in the U.S. You've probably seen them and their recognizable rust-orange wings. But the Eastern population of monarch butterflies has declined by 80% since the mid-90s. The Western population, which winters in Central California, has dropped even further.
JEPSEN: Actually, just this year, we're seeing potentially the collapse of the Western population.
ROTT: Federal wildlife officials are asking the public to help by planting milkweed and using less insecticide. They'll also review the monarch butterfly's status every year. But the decision is still frustrating to Jake Li, who specializes in endangered species at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center.
JAKE LI: If you've already done, like, 90% of the work to make a warranted finding, well, just do the remaining 10% and get it done.
ROTT: By putting the listing off, Li says, it will not only cost more time, but money. And with the extinction crisis worsening, money for biodiversity will be in short supply. Nathan Rott, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF COM TRUISE'S "SILICON TARE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.