by Photo: Xerces Society / Candace Fallon

Monarch Butterflies have rapidly declined in the past decade, but California’s Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation announced it saw a hundred-fold increase with nearly 250,000 butterflies during their most recent count. 

The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count has been cataloging the population count of Monarch Butterflies for decades, and this winter brought a final tally of 247,237 monarch butterflies, the highest observed across the West since 2016. Less than 2,000 monarchs were seen in the previous year’s totals. 

“We’re ecstatic with the results and hope this trend continues,” says Emma Pelton, the Western Monarch Lead with the Xerces Society. “There are so many environmental factors at play across their range that there’s no single cause or definitive answer for this year’s uptick, but hopefully it means we still have time to protect this species.

While the 2021 tallies are worth celebrating, western monarchs have undergone a significant decline, losing more than 95 percent of their population since the 1980s. The Endangered Species Conservation Biologist for the Xerces Society Isis Howard said this year’s total is a step in the right direction though it indicates a severe population decline.  

“Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to double-down on our conservation efforts. Acting quickly to harness the momentum of this upswing is our best chance at preventing western monarchs and other at-risk butterflies from being lost forever,” Howard said. 

Over 95,000 monarchs were recorded in Santa Barbara County, including the largest single-site as over 25,000 butterflies had been found on private property. 

San Luis Obispo County reported the second-highest count, with over 90,000 butterflies reported at overwintering sites. According to Xerces Society, California’s central coast hosts the majority of monarchs and a significant number in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

In Santa Cruz, over 1,000 monarchs were found at both Natural Bridges State Park and Moran Lake. Monterey County and the City of Pacific Grove saw a return of approximately 14,000 monarchs to their sanctuary.

The Xerces Society reports that monarchs in Ventura county there were nearly 19,500, and Los Angeles had over 4,000 butterflies, which are figures unseen since the early 2,000s. 

With the help of public tips, over 7,000 butterflies were discovered, along with five new roosting locations, in San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles Counties. The Xerces society credits the high-record volunteer efforts to survey over 283 overwintering sites as monarchs huddle close to survive the winter. 

The Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act, or Monarch Act of 2021 introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon in March 2021 to provide funding for conservation activities to restore, enhance, and manage overwintering and breeding habitats of monarch populations in the western U.S.

The bill authorized the appropriation of $12.5 million per year for the next five years to a Western Monarch Butterfly Rescue Fund, provide $12.5 million for each of five years to support the implementation of the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan prepared by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and facilitate the implementation of the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan prepared by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 

Actions to aid the recovery of western monarchs are outlined on the Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Call to Action which includes protecting their existing habitat and overwintering sites, reducing pesticide use, and restoring new habitat by planting nectar plants and native milkweed in the appropriate locations of their range. 

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