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from the desk of dan ashe

Warranted But Precluded

By Dan Ashe
min read

Our “To Do” List in Stopping Extinction

We all have lists of things “to do”. Those nagging necessities that warrant our attention, but we’re just too busy, or our budgets are just too tight, or both, so we put them on a list of things to do. Sometimes we do them; often we don’t.

On Wednesday, 16 December 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that an Endangered Species Act listing of the monarch butterfly—likely the only insect that qualifies for the moniker iconic—is “warranted but precluded”, therefore placing it on the ESA’s to do list.

In May 2011, I was awaiting Senate confirmation to be the 16th USFWS Director, when the agency announced what many called a “mega-settlement” with several environmental plaintiffs, agreeing to empty its then 251 species long to do list—from New England cottontail to Arctic grayling to greater sage grouse. The New York Times called it the most sweeping change in ESA enforcement since the 1990s, and in the nearly six years that I served as Director we finished that to do list.

But like in our daily lives, as we’re celebrating victory over the leaky bathroom faucet, the washing machine breaks, the car’s turn signal burns out, and the refrigerator begins making a strange humming sound. One step forward, three back.

But the monarch butterfly is not a refrigerator. It’s a marvelous, majestic piece of nature’s fabric, and the strange humming sound we’re hearing is the threat of extinction. What we don’t like to acknowledge—an inconvenient truth—is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works in a very practical world of limited resources. Putting the monarch butterfly on the ESA’s to do list is not their failure. It’s a national failure and disgrace.

We shouldn’t be angry, or even disappointed at this decision. We should be determined and  motivated to stop this from happening again, and again, and again. The Service, and its federal, state, and tribal partners need the resources to tackle the planet’s 6th mass extinction. We need to help get them those resources.

In the meantime, monarch butterfly is on our “doing” list through the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® North American Monarch program. With the strength of 104 partners including the USFWS and other prominent monarch conservation organizations, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are uniquely equipped to help in this critical moment through engagement, collaboration and action. Our 200 million annual visitors are a potential citizen-army of conservationists.

All of us can help save monarchs, from Indianapolis Zoo in Indianapolis, Ind., to Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, Texas, from National Parks to parkway mediums, from community gardens to backyards to windowsill flowerpots. And in return, we, our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will be blessed by the beauty and wonder that is the monarch butterfly.

Join us! Put monarch butterflies on your doing list, and help save them from extinction!

Dan Ashe is the President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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