California is on the brink of losing the Western monarch butterfly.
Local help in the way of mass plantings of milkweed for the butterflies’ sustenance during migration is desperately needed. The large-scale milkweed planting effort was delayed last year due to the pandemic, and this year’s effort needs immediate organizing.
In 2020, Merced College Horticultural Advisor Andy Codd and some Merced College students grew the milkweed seeds for their Spring plant sale in early April, but by the time the seeds were to be planted, the Covid pandemic interfered with the plan.
Merced Master Gardeners’ lead on the Milkweed project in 2020 was Stan Bruce, who has moved to the State of Washington.
Bunce told the Times, “I am not aware of current plans in the Merced area.
“I think a large-scale multi-cooperative effort is the only strategy to help as time is running short for this species.
“The plea to the public about the plight of the monarch this year is to get their political/financial/conservation-minded awareness.
“Publicity is very definitely needed followed by repeated large-scale wide area plantings.
“Narrow-leaf milkweed species (Asclepias fascicularis) is the only species for monarchs.
“The Merced Master Gardeners last year coordinated with Bowles Farm near Los Banos for 3,000 donated seeds, Merced College plant sale instructor Andy Codd for the growing of new seedlings, and the [Merced National] Wildlife Refuge biologist, Fumika Takahashi, for permission and volunteer help to plant them in the Refuge.
“Fumika, Takahashi helped us coordinate, but the pandemic last Spring prevented the Refuge mass planting, which was essential. I say this because we then sold or gave away plants to the public, and although some recipients were able to plant large quantities, it is unlikely that small ‘backyard’ clumps of Asclepias will attract Western Monarchs due to the extreme damage to the severe reduction of their annual migration to the California coast and back to the western states.
“Most wild patches of plants have been disrupted by cities, farms, and loss of habitat.
What’s at stake?
The Western monarch butterfly is distinguished from the North American monarchs which travel from the eastern and central United States and Canada to Mexico each winter.
Western monarchs, smaller in number, travel through the western United States to winter along California’s Central Coast. These Western monarchs need sustenance from native milkweed on their journey.
Their population has been decreasing for decades, from 1.2 million in 1997 to 30,000 in 2019, and more recently there has been a precipitous decline to 1,914 butterflies total as per the most recent results from the 24th Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count.
Insecticides, pesticides, and habitat destruction from humans using the land for building have all played a part in the decline of the beautiful species, characterized by its orange wings ribbed in black and white dots on the edges — a symbol of summertime for many who grew up playing in their backyards and marveling at these fluttering treasures of nature.
They are so striking that Pacific Grove, where Western monarchs have traditionally congregated in swarms each winter, clinging to eucalyptus and pine tree branches, became a tourist attraction known as Butterfly City. However, during the annual Thanksgiving count, not a single monarch was found in Pacific Grove! This may have to do with the monarchs dealing with forest fires on top of loss of milkweed habitat from development and pesticide use.
Besides the absence of beauty from these colorful creatures in the natural environment, the butterflies’ potential loss will be critical as they are important pollinators.
Adult monarchs sip nectar from flower blossoms, and as they dart to other flowers, they spread pollen, which helps the plants produce seeds. Seeds help the plant to reproduce and also feed birds and other wildlife.
What can be done?
In past years, help for the butterflies came from organizations such as the Xerces Society, which worked alongside government agencies, partner organizations, and communities across the country to protect and restore habitat for these insects. The Society has provided workshops and educational resources on monarch conservation. It has also conducted research, including assisting with community science projects like the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count and the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper.
For information on concrete steps to take this season, people interested in helping these butterflies in their struggle to survive can go online to https://xerces.org , click on “Monarch Conservation” and read “Western Monarchs in Crisis”.
According to Xerces Society, people who wish to help can also go online to www.savewesternmonarchs.org which is part of the Xerces Society’s website dedicated to helping Western monarchs.
Articles on that site to take note of are: “The Western Monarch Call to Action”, which includes five key steps to help recover the western monarch population; “Monarch Nectar Plant Guide for California”; and “Milkweed Seed Finder”, a comprehensive national directory of milkweed seed vendors to help you find sources of seed.
In addition, the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge encourages mayors and other heads of local and tribal government to take action to help save the monarch butterfly, whose eastern populations have declined by 90 percent and western populations by 99 percent in recent years.
Through the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, U.S. cities, municipalities, and other communities are committing to create habitat for the monarch butterfly and pollinators, and to educate residents about how they can make a difference at home and in their community.