Planting Milkweed for Monarchs? Make Sure It’s Native

MONARCH Act Introduced to Ensure ‘Beloved Pollinator’ Is Around for Future Generations

“In only a few decades, a migration of millions has been reduced to less than two thousand butterflies.”

Published on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

 Butterflies seen at Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove on November 30, 2015. (Photo: Sandy/Chuck Harris/CC BY-NC 2.0)

A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced two bills on Wednesday to boost conservation of the western monarch butterfly to save the population from total collapse.

The legislation comes at critical moment for the iconic species. The Xerces Society said in January after its latest annual western monarch count that 1,914 monarchs butterflies were recorded overwintering on the California coast—a figure the conservation group said reflected a staggering 99.9% drop from numbers in the 1980s and was an indiction the species was heading toward extinction.

“In only a few decades, a migration of millions has been reduced to less than two thousand butterflies,” Stephanie McKnight, a conservation biologist with the Xerces Society, said at the time.

The butterflies also have no endangered species protections, neither at the state or federal level.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-ORe), who are leading the reintroduction of the The Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act (MONARCH Act) and the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act, are hoping to stop the precipitous decline.

Western Monarch Population 2021 by Center for Biological Diversity

The MONARCH Act would direct $12.5 million per year to projects focused on conserving the butterfly and an additional $12.5 million per year to implement the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan, a proposal of conservation strategies organized by the the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act would establish a federal grant program for “pollinator-friendly” roadsides.

Panetta, in a statement Wednesday, lamented the “potential extinction of this magnificent pollinator” and said the pieces of legislation were “a small example of how we must continue to fight the effects of the climate crisis by working to preserve the future of a species that means so much to our ecosystem and to us on the Central Coast.”

According to Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, the MONARCH Act gives “these beautiful orange-and-black butterflies a fighting chance at survival.”

The measures were welcomed by other environmental experts like Dr. Sylvia Fallon, senior director of wildlife at NRDC, who highlighted the multiple threats the butterflies are facing.

“These bills will provide a lifeline for monarch butterflies whose populations have declined dramatically due to pesticide use, climate change, and habitat loss,” said Fallon.

“We need comprehensive conservation plans that help restore the milkweed and overwintering habitat monarchs depend on, or risk losing them forever in as little as two decades,” she warned. “This legislation is an important part of ensuring future generations can continue witnessing one of wildlife’s most astounding migrations.”

The butterfly crisis was unmistakable this winter in Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, which is in the district of Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), who co-introduced the measures with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) in the House.

While 6,700 monarchs were spotted at that location in 2019, a mere 200 were seen this winter.

Visiting the grove last month, Carbajal pointed to the then-forthcoming legislation and said that he, along with Panetta and Merkley, were “trying to not only draw attention to (the species’ risk of extinction) by writing letters as we did to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to allocate funds, but moving legislation forward that will actually do what needs to be done: protect (the butterflies) and enhance the conservation itself.”

“We’re trying to yell at the top of our lungs, ‘We’re in crisis,'” said Carbajal. “This is a species in my district that is likely to go extinct unless we do something about it, and I feel it’s my responsibility to scream loudly.”

In a statement Wednesday, Carbajal warned again that the butterflies “are on a path to extinction” unless urgent action is taken.

“The MONARCH Act and Monarch Pollinator Highway Act,” he said, would make “critical investments in conservation projects so we can restore their habitats and preserve this beloved pollinator for future generations to experience and enjoy.”

Climate Change Lays Waste to Butterflies Across American West

Study documents declines across hundreds of species over recent decades, and finds years featuring warmer, drier autumns are particularly deadly

By Alex Fox


MARCH 9, 2021

The western monarch butterfly has declined by 99.9 percent since the 1980s, according to the latest population assessment. (Jeff Oliver)

Butterflies are in decline across the American West as climate change makes the region hotter and drier, reports Dino Grandoni for the Washington Post.

The new research, published last week in the journal Science, details winnowing butterfly populations across the majority of the 450 species evaluated by the researchers.

By combining decades of butterfly sighting data recorded by scientists and amateurs, the team found that the total number of butterflies observed west of the Rocky Mountains has fallen by 1.6 percent every year since 1977.

“You extrapolate it and it feels crazy but it’s consistent with the anecdotal ‘windshield effect’ where people aren’t spending time cleaning insects from their car windshields anymore,” Matt Forister, biologist at the University of Nevada and the study’s lead author, tells Oliver Milman of the Guardian. “Certainly many butterfly species are becoming so rare it’s hard for some people to see what were once widespread, common species.”

In particular, the iconic western monarch butterfly’s population has crashed to the tune of 99.9 percent, reports Liz Langley for National Geographic. But, per National Geographic, the declines have also pushed less famous species such as the Boisduval’s blue and the California dogface butterfly, California’s state insect, to the brink of extinction.

“The influence of climate change is driving those declines, which makes sense because they’re so widespread,” Forister tells the Post. “It has to be something geographically pervasive.”

To reach their troubling findings, the researchers combined databases of butterfly counts conducted by scientists and amateur insect enthusiasts at 72 locations in the western U.S. To zero-in on the contribution of climate change, the researchers made sure to include locations that were relatively undisturbed by agriculture and human development to limit the influence of other threats to butterflies such as habitat loss and pesticides.

Even in these nearly pristine locations, butterflies were still disappearing.

“This is one of the first global cases of declines occurring in wildlands, away from densely populated human-dominated landscapes, and the rate of 1.6 percent is calamitous,” David Wagner, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut who was not involved in the research, tells the Post.

In particular, Forister tells National Geographic his team’s analysis found that warmer fall seasons appeared to be deadliest for butterflies. “We’ve been really focused on the [warming of] spring for a couple of decades now,” Forister tells National Geographic. However, he adds, “warming at the end of the season is a really negative impact.”

The study doesn’t pinpoint exactly what about the warmer, drier conditions created by climate change is laying the butterflies low. Per the Guardian, it could be that longer, more intense summers are leaving plants parched, which diminishes the supply of the nectar the butterflies feed on. Warmer winters might also somehow interfere with the hibernation-like state butterflies enter during the colder months, leaving them weaker come spring.

“The declines are extremely concerning ecologically,” Dara Satterfield, a butterfly researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute who was not involved in the study, tells the Guardian. “We know butterflies and moths act as pollinators, decomposers, nutrient-transport vessels, and food sources for birds and other wildlife.”

This latest study is the most recent in a series of research papers documenting declining insect populations across the globe. Speaking with Melissa Sevigny of radio station KNAU, Forister says the lesson from this research may be that “if butterflies are suffering out there in protected areas, counterintuitively, that elevates the importance of land closer at hand,” he says “You could think twice about spraying poisons in your background, because our backyards are good butterfly habitat.”

Alex Fox is a freelance science journalist based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ScienceNatureScience Newsthe San Jose Mercury News, and Mongabay. You can find him at more from this author | Follow @Alex_M_Fox

We Need to Talk About the Butterflies

By Flipboard Science

A troubling new study shows that hundreds of butterfly species are disappearing in the American West. Another recent report indicates that the number of monarchs that migrated to Mexico last year fell by more than a quarter from 2019. In each case, researchers say the climate crisis is driving the beloved pollinators’ decline. Read on for more about the state of the butterfly, and learn what you can do to help.

We Need to Talk About the Butterflies


Western Butterflies Disappearing Due to Warmer Fall Seasons

Olivia Rosane

Mar. 05, 2021 02:38PM EST

An Edith’s Checkerspot butterfly in Los Padres National Forest in Southern California. Patricia Marroquin / Moment / Getty Images

Butterflies across the U.S. West are disappearing, and now researchers say the climate crisis is largely to blame. 

A new study published in Science on Thursday looked at three different data sets that cover the last 40 years of butterfly populations across more than 70 locations in the Western U.S. They found that butterfly populations had fallen by 1.6 percent per year, and that this was linked to warmer weather during the fall.

“That so many of our butterflies are declining is very alarming,” Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in response to the findings. “These declines are a wake-up call that we need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases to save these beautiful and beloved butterflies, as well as our very way of life.”

In recent years, scientists have raised the alarm about a worldwide decline in insects. A study published last spring found that the number of land-based insects was falling by about nine percent per decade. However, it has been difficult to tease out the causes of this decline, since factors like land-use change, pesticide use and climate shifts may all contribute, Gizmodo’s Earther pointed out.

To investigate the role of climate change, the researchers chose to focus on the Western U.S. because it has seen general warming and drying trends covering a wide variety of ecosystems and land uses. They looked at 450 species in 11 states, from Washington to California to New Mexico to Montana, and compared population data with temperature trends.

They found that butterfly populations actually increased with summer temperatures, probably because the warmth meant more nectar and larval bugs as food for butterflies and caterpillars. However, the warmer autumns caused their populations to fall again, likely because plants cannot survive the extended warmth and the population of predators increases. Because the declines occurred in a variety of ecosystems, including protected areas that are less impacted by pesticides, the researchers thought climate change was to blame.

“Out there, removed from those factors, we see a shifting climate as the main driver of declining butterfly numbers,” University of Texas in Reno biologist and lead study author Matthew Forister told Earther in an email.

University of Connecticut ecologist David Wagner, who was not involved with the study, said it was notable because it included protected areas.

“[T]his is one of the first global cases of declines occurring in wildlands, away from densely populated human-dominated landscapes, and the rate of 1.6 percent is calamitous,” he told The Washington Post.

Examples of species in decline include the iconic monarch butterfly, the common cabbage white butterfly and the vulnerable Edith’s checkerspot. Forister told The Washington Post that both widespread and rare species were impacted.

The findings have important implications for conservation, because they show that simply protecting one habitat is not sufficient in the context of climate change.

“We need a multi-prong approach to conserve insects. This new study adds to the evidence that in addition to habitat protections and pesticide reform, that approach must include swift and bold climate change policy,” CBD’s Cornelisse said.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑