Over the past 20 years, the population of monarch butterflies has fallen dramatically - from a high of 1 billion down to only 35 million last winter, a decline of over 90 percent. To ensure the iconic insects have a future, conservation groups the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and the Xerces Society have filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish protection for the butterflies under the Endangered Species Act.
"We're at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans," says Tierra Curry, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "The 90 percent drop in the monarch's population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio." One reason for the population drop is an unusually cold storm in 2002 that spelled catastrophe for the butterflies, when an estimated 500 million insects perished.