[Marxism] With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 10 05:57:45 MST 2019

NY Times, Jan. 10, 2019
With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low
By Laura M. Holson

They arrive in California each winter, an undulating ribbon of orange 
and black. There, migrating western monarch butterflies nestle among the 
state’s coastal forests, traveling from as far away as Idaho and Utah 
only to return home in the spring.

This year, though, the monarchs’ flight seems more perilous than ever. 
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit group that 
conducts a yearly census of the western monarch, said the population 
reached historic lows in 2018, an estimated 86 percent decline from the 
previous year.

That in itself would be troubling news. But, combined with a 97 percent 
decline in the total population since the 1980s, this year’s count is 
“potentially catastrophic,” according to the biologist Emma Pelton.

“We think this is a huge wake-up call,” said Ms. Pelton, who oversees 
the survey and lives in Portland, Ore.

The society has preliminary counts from 97 sites, most of them along 
California’s coast, representing an area that traditionally accounts for 
nearly 77 percent of the state’s winter monarch population. In 2017, the 
sites hosted about 148,000 monarchs. But in 2018, that dropped to an 
estimated 20,456 monarchs, with large numbers of them counted in Pismo 
Beach, Big Sur and Pacific Grove.

In November volunteers fan out across California’s coastal cities to 
find and count the monarch population. Ms. Pelton said the total count 
could be higher once final numbers from the census arrive next week.

Monarchs in the western part of the United States migrate for the winter 
to California, where they gather mostly among fragrant eucalyptus trees, 
which provide hospitable living conditions.

Monarchs from the eastern part of the United States, by contrast, winter 
in Mexico. Ms. Pelton said the count of eastern monarchs had not been 

Ms. Pelton warns that if nothing is done to preserve the western 
monarchs and their habitat, the butterflies could face extinction. In a 
2017 study, scientists estimated that the monarch butterfly population 
in western North America had a 72 percent chance of becoming near 
extinct in 20 years if the monarch population trend was not reversed.

One of the study’s researchers, Cheryl Schultz, an associate professor 
at Washington State University Vancouver, said at the time that an 
estimated 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California in 
the 1980s.

Butterflies are important because they quickly respond to ecological 
changes and serve as a warning about an ecosystem’s health, Ms. Pelton 
said. They pollinate flowers, too.

Monarchs require milkweed, a herbaceous plant that grows throughout the 
United States and Mexico, for breeding and migration. Acreage of 
milkweed, though, has been declining in recent years because of 
pesticide use and urban development, Ms. Pelton said.

“A lawn does not provide a home for a butterfly,” she said. “It doesn’t 
help to raise them in your house, either.”

Harsher than usual weather, too, has threatened the monarch’s existence. 
 From 2011 to 2017, California had one of its worst droughts on record, 
which led to ecological devastation among fishing communities and 
forested towns.

In 2016, for example, the United States Forest Service estimated that 62 
million trees died in the state. Last year the state experienced the 
deadliest wildfire season in its history, with residents affected from 
Redding to Los Angeles.

Ms. Pelton said the trend could reverse if citizens and governments act 
now. Gardeners, for one, can plant milkweed to support the surviving 
monarchs. And towns could help local habitats thrive by planting new 
trees now so that in 20 years, generations of monarchs have new places 
to winter.

“We don’t think it is too late to act,” she said. “But everyone needs to 
step up their effort.”

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