[Marxism] With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low
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
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
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
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
“We don’t think it is too late to act,” she said. “But everyone needs to
step up their effort.”
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