Environmentalists hit Farm Bureau on endangered monarchs
Illinois Environmental Council charges good PR is meant to help pass bad bill
By Ted Cox
A leading state environmental group questions the motives of farmers committed to protect the monarch butterfly, saying it’s good public relations meant to provide cover for a bad bill on endangered species.
The Illinois Farm Bureau led a group of statewide agriculture organizations this week in announcing an ambitious 20-year plan to plant milkweed and reduce mowing and the use of pesticides in order to encourage the migration of monarch butterflies, as well as other pollinating insects. But Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said Friday that was just committing to undo the exact damage farmers had done on monarchs for decades.
“Farmers can be really great conservationists,” Walling said, “but when it comes to the Farm Bureau and bigger industrial agriculture I don’t think the Farm Bureau should be praised for their chapter protecting pollinators when they’ve long embraced these policies” that have caused damage.
“They’ve treated milkweed as a noxious weed,” she added. “They’ve worked on getting rid of native vegetation. They’ve overapplied pesticides. All these things contribute to pollinator decline.”
Lyndsey Ramsey, associate director of natural and environmental resources with the IFB, countered that it wasn’t until late in the Obama administration that it even became a consideration that monarch butterflies could become an endangered species.
“What the Obama administration articulated then was a lot of the uncertainties about what had caused pollinator declines,” Ramsey said. “There’s a lot of contributing factors.” It was administration research that determined “best practices,” such as planting milkweed and discouraging mowing wild flowers and the use of pesticides — actions included in the Illinois Monarch Project plan.
Walling charged the good publicity the plan received in the media following the annual Earth Day celebrations this week was actually intended to undermine state law on endangered species with a bill backed by the IFB and pending in the General Assembly.
“This bill is entirely related to their concern that the monarch butterfly is going to be rated an endangered species,” she said.
According to Walling, the bill to amend the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act seeks to declare that state and federal operations are redundant. “They’re trying to argue it’s a federal decision,” she said.
Ramsey granted that it’s intended to “streamline the process at the state level” and “reflect the national conversation on endangered species,” but Walling said on the federal level the government might allow a permit that would hurt an endangered species in one state if the applying company is making efforts to benefit the species elsewhere.
Walling drew parallels with an Illinois wind-turbine project that got a federal permit even though it caused issues with the Indiana bat. The feds, she said, were concerned with the overall population of Indiana bats, not the population of the species in Illinois.
“In Illinois, we care about what’s in Illinois,” Walling said. “The state permit is going to look at (what) are you doing in Illinois to help the species in Illinois.”
Bill Bodine, the Farm Bureau’s associate director of state legislation, said the bill had been amended so that it “must provide a net benefit to the species … and in Illinois specifically.”
“If they want to continue to advance a solution that is going to take away the state’s authority and leave us at the behest of the Trump administration … that’s just not OK right now.”
Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
But Walling countered, “They want the federal government to oversee that,” in making permit determinations, and not the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“We really want DNR to be a backstop, because at the federal level now, because of the Trump administration … it’s a joke,” she added. “They’re just giving them out.
“If they want to continue to advance a solution that is going to take away the state’s authority and leave us at the behest of the Trump administration when it comes to protecting endangered species, that’s just not OK right now.”
House Bill 2425 was sponsored by Rep. Andrew Chesney of Freeport, and it cleared the House, albeit in a contested vote that’s been held up in a parliamentary procedure filed by Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates. According to Walling, DNR opposes it, and the Pritzker administration has expressed reservations, although it’s not certain whether the governor would veto it if it passed both houses of the General Assembly.
Bodine insisted the bill should be judged on its own merits and is unrelated to the Illinois Monarch Project plan released this week.
“The Monarch Project is not intended to provide cover for the bill,” he said. “The bill is actually intended to help with efforts that may benefit the Monarch Project.”