While preliminary, more than 300,000 monarch butterflies have been reported across 183 overwintering sites in California for The Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count.
Data are still being submitted for the Thanksgiving Count monitoring period, which ran from Nov. 12 to Dec. 4, and The Xerces Society plans to share the final total in late January, once all data have been compiled and vetted.
The largest individual count so far is 34,180 at a private overwintering site in Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties have the largest four sites, which host more than 20,000 butterflies each. Among them is the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, which is open to the public for viewing and docent-led tours.
Surpassing 300,000 monarch butterflies for the 2022 Thanksgiving Count is a meaningful benchmark. In fact, it’s something that hasn’t occurred since the fall of 2000! (That said, volunteers are counting significantly more sites since the early 2000s, and thus, possibly more butterflies, too.) After last year’s surprising news of a more than 100-fold increase from 2020’s record lows of 2,000 butterflies, a second year of increasing numbers gives hope for the struggling western monarch population.
However, for decades, monarch scientists have been concerned about the butterfly’s overall downward population trend, and this year is no exception. This season’s numbers are not too far off from monarch count numbers in 2014, when Endangered Species Act protection was sought for this species, with the support of many of the leading monarch researchers. It’s imperative that this positive news is also met with the understanding that the population has declined significantly since the 1980s, when western monarchs numbered in the low millions. There continues to be very little meaningful protection for the species or its habitat; overwintering sites in particular continue to be destroyed and damaged each year. Continued advocacy, action and support are needed now and well into the future.
To learn more about the annual western monarch count effort, visit WesternMonarchCount.org.