Brett Hartl is Government Affairs Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. The organization has been working to get the monarch butterflies listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  But that’s hardly the only animal they are trying to protect. The CBD keeps a running tally of lawsuits it has filed against the Trump administration. It’s up to 16 now.

On where things stand with the monarch butterfly’s status today: 

“The Endangered Species Act allows any citizen to  petition. So any group can petition to protect a species that is threatened or endangered under the law. And in theory that is supposed to take 12 months from start to finish. But it often takes years just due to resource constraints, funding, and staff time, and sometimes the science isn’t well-developed or politics gets in the way and it takes many more years. So we petitioned the monarch back in 2014, and we actually had a legal settlement with Fish and Wildlife Service that they need to take the next step in the listing process in June of 2019.”

LISTEN: “What the Trump Administration Means for Endangered Species”

On how he thinks efforts to recover monarch populations have been going so far? 

“I think that a lot of effort has been made over the last few years to start the long process of restoring some of the native prairie and the native pollinator habitats and critically milkweed which is the only plant that monarchs feed on and lay their eggs on. But we don’t know yet.  I think right now these early efforts are really good but there needs to probably be another order of magnitude in investment. So right now the Fish and Wildlife Service is spending several million dollars a year and the federal government is probably spending collectively 10 or 15 million dollars a year but it probably needs to be somewhere closer to 50 or 100 million dollars a year just because of the scale of the problem. I know that sounds like a lot of money, but in reality it’s a big country and for other species that require these broad landscape bubble solutions —  a good example would be sage grouse in the West —  the federal government spent over half a billion dollars to avoid listing by basically investing in good conservation actions across the species range. So the scale is quite large if you want to actually save the butterfly and save the amazing multi-generation migration that the monarch undertakes.”

On if he thinks there’s any chance that could happen under the Trump administration?

“The Trump administration is proposing massive cuts to the domestic side of the budget. So huge cuts to Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Interior, USDA in order to increase military spending.  That obviously has an effect even on things like monarch butterflies.  This administration has shown overwhelming hostility to most things environmental. And basically the main thing they’ve done over the first few months of the administration is to roll back environmental regulations that were designed to protect human health and the environment. So it certainly doesn’t bode well. The metric success is whether or not all the federal and state and local NGO partners, together with  ordinary people who like monarchs and plant milkweed, collectively can do enough over the next couple of years so that the listing is not needed. Now the science shows that the monarch is still crashing. There was a scientific paper done by the U.S. Geological Survey last year that said that they believe that the Eastern migration, which is the main bulk of the monarch population, could be extinct within 20 years. That suggests that the monarch is in really dire straits and that we need to do a lot more to recover it.”

On what the CBD’s main concerns are for how struggling species will fair under the Trump Administration:

“A lot of our concerns so far actually come from Congress. Congress has been the main place where we have seen attacks on both the Endangered Species Act itself as well as attacks on individual species like the wolf or the American burying beetle or the lesser prairie chicken. We’ve seen a lot of species specific attacks where they say we want to end protection for species even though it’s still endangered, even though it’s still potentially going to go extinct. There are legal actions on Trump are a little bit broader because his assaults have been more at a macro scale just going after things that really, really matter such as gutting protections writ large for wildlife in Alaska. That’s a broader issue than just the endangered species concerns. But you know the Trump administration is still early and his cronies and his deputies that are going to do the real damage down the road, they haven’t arrived yet. We are still in the calm before the storm because it takes them some time before they really start attacking them from within. So right now the action is within Congress who has been for the last six years attacking the Endangered Species Act as sort of a regular part of their daily activities. But again we don’t know yet what it’s going to look like but obviously the early signs are not are not encouraging. “

The yellow lance is freshwater mussel found along the Atlantic seaboard. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that it be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
(Photo: Chris Eads / NCSU)

On the hope some saw in the rusty-patched bumblebee — the first bumblebee ever –  receiving endangered status under the Endangered Species Act in January of 2017:

“That species was in a unique position because it basically had crossed the finish line during the last days of the Obama administration. And the only thing left to do was to do final publication on the Federal Register to make it official. And they don’t really have a lot of legs to stand on to stop something like that. So that was a good sign. We had another species that was proposed for listing a month ago, the yellow lance which is a small mussel found in the eastern United States. Again, we had a legal settlement from the Obama administration era that the species was overdue. The Trump administration, one some level, still follows the rule of law insofar as when there is a legal settlement they comply with it. But that seems to be at the moment all that is happening on the Wildlife Fund. So, in other words ,unless your species has a lawsuit protecting it it’s not going to get a lot of love and attention from the Trump administration. So the good news at least for monarchs is that because we have a legal settlement in place and a few years they have to make a decision.”