Volunteers conducting the annual Western monarch count to measure the population of overwintering butterflies have reported fantastic news for the second consecutive year. Buoyed by the surprising rebound in 2021, the volunteers’ excitement grew when early reports hinted at another year of improved numbers. In November and December, volunteers surveyed a total of 272 overwintering sites across coastal California, along with a few sites inside California and Arizona, and tallied 335,479 individual monarchs. Over 130,000 butterflies were reported in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties alone. The San Francisco Bay Area also witnessed a comeback from last year, with more than 8,000 butterflies reported in surrounding counties. This season’s results mark a welcome improvement from the dismal total of less than 2,000 individuals counted in 2020, and are larger than the 250,000 counted last year, bringing the numbers squarely back into what was considered “normal” in 2000-2017.
Emma Pelton, a conservation biologist at the Xerces Society, which leads the Western monarch count, said, “We can all celebrate this tally. A second year in a row of relatively good numbers gives us hope.” However, the storms that hit California after the count will undoubtedly affect the total count, as butterflies were blown out of their clusters at some sites, making them more vulnerable to cold. Still, some sites, like Pacific Grove, fared relatively well, with the majority of monarchs still holding on.
To improve monarch survival and ensure there is habitat for them long into the future, managing groves to be more resilient to climate change and severe weather is necessary. This can be achieved by replacing dead and dying trees, mitigating future flooding, and planting more native nectar sources.
All the small but collectively powerful efforts to re-wild and protect landscapes for monarchs are producing results.
Consider joining the monarch-boosting mission of the Xerces Society. Here are five actions you can take to support monarch butterflies:
- Plant native milkweed.
- Plant a diversity of nectar plants, ideally native to your area.
- Stop using pesticides or minimize the risk associated with pesticide use.
- Call on legislators to support greatly needed policies. In the USA, for example: Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act.
- Contribute to community science projects that track monarchs. In the USA for example: Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, Western Monarch Mystery Challenge, and nationwide Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program.