If any insect could be considered “beloved,” the Monarch butterfly would probably at the top of the list. After Monarch populations declined up to 99 percent over the past few decades, and after environmentalists have been begging for years for the insect to be officially listed as “endangered,” it was finally declared so by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Agricultural organizations that use butterfly-killing pesticides and herbicides are some of the biggest opponents of an “endangered” listing, because it could mean that their use of these toxic substances might be curtailed. The manufacturers of chemicals like RoundUp have also lobbied against it.
“Putting the Monarch on the endangered list is welcomed and long overdue,” said Patt Healy of the Malibu Monarch Project. “By doing so, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) took a giant step in the right direction.”
She points out that the IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world, as well as the measures needed to safeguard it, and feels that the “endangered” designation “brings awareness to the plight of the monarch butterfly.”
“Sadly, both the federal government and California Fish and Wildlife have yet to declare the monarch endangered,” Healy continued. “The IUCN listing hopefully will prompt them into action.”
She writes that the monarch is “A most remarkable insect, which in a few years could be extinct if dramatic action isn’t taken soon. The Western Monarch is unique among insects because it migrates thousands of miles each year from its summer habitat in the Pacific Northwest to its winter habit along the California Coast.”
“In 1980, tens of thousands of monarchs overwintered in Malibu,” Healy said. “Today, there are barely any.”
She says the main reasons for the decline are development in their habitat, use of herbicides and insecticides, loss of over-wintering sites,and now climate change.
But Healy has some simple ways to help monarch butterflies.
“Avoid pesticide use anywhere on your property,” she cautions, and plant a pollinator garden of any size.
“It can be as large or as small as you would like,” she said. “It can even be in pots. It should include milkweed, the only plant that the monarch will lay its eggs on. But avoid tropical milkweed, which has been known to harm the monarch. Instead, plant native milkweed and include other native pollinator plants to provide food for the monarch during its life.”
Anyone interested in helping the monarch by planting a pollinator garden can contact the Malibu Monarch Project for advice on location, plants and suppliers by sending an email to Healy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not a pretty picture — Malibu used to be home to three of the top 50 overwintering sites for monarch butterflies back in 1997 when annual monarch counts first began. The butterflies made their home from October until March, primarily at Encinal Canyon, Leo Carrillo State Beach and Busch Drive at PCH.
The Western Monarch Count is a community science program through the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
In 2014, Encinal had a population of 97 monarchs, down 96.1 percent from 2001. Leo Carrillo had a population of 35, down 97 percent, and Busch Drive had 417 — down 91.2 percent. In the last two official annual counts during Thanksgiving 2020 and 2021, the results were devastating: Busch and Leo Carrillo had zero monarchs (Encinal wasn’t counted).
Cat Darst of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said recent predictions put the western monarch’s probability of extinction over the next 30 years at 92 to 95 percent.
The state government isn’t helping: The Superior Court of Sacramento County recently sided with agricultural groups and determined that the state has no legal authority to protect insects under the California Endangered Species Act.
In December 2020, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that listing the monarch under the Endangered Species Act was “warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions.”
Angela Laws, Ph.D., of the Xerces Society, suggested that monarch habitat creation can be done as a group project not only in yards, but in parks, schools, offices, churches, abandoned lots, rights of way, under power lines and on farms.
Her group is working with Leo Carrillo State Park to improve monarch management.
“When you create monarch habitat, it also supports other pollinators,” she said in an online presentation.