Butterfly summit held in midst of Monarch crisis

KSBW8 in California highlights the Deschutes Land Trusts' work in monarch butterfly conservation during the Western Monarch Summit in Pacific Grove, CA.
By Caitlin Conrad
KSBW News 8

Amanda Egertsons talks butterfly conservation in an interview with KSBW News.
Amanda Egertsons talks butterfly conservation in an interview with KSBW News.

The plight of the Western Monarch is dire. The species has seen a 99 percent decline since the 1990s and conservationists say the population will not survive if current trends continue.

“The Western Monarch Population could very easily become extinct,” said Juan Govea with the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.

The museum oversees the docent program at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove. The Sanctuary is one of many Western Monarch overwintering sites along the Central Coast and like all the other locations it has seen a dramatic drop in numbers.

In 1997 45,000 butterflies were counted at the Pacific Grove Sanctuary. This season 642 monarchs were counted. The decline that started in the 90s has dropped precipitously with one of the most drastic drops happening in the last winter, with the population seeing another 9 percent decline in just one year. It’s an occurrence that has conservationists flummoxed.

“Why did the population that was already low plummet by a factor of ten? Ten times lower in one year,” said Robert Coffan with Western Monarchs Advocates.

Coffan, who lives in southern Oregon is in Carmel Valley this weekend for the first ever Western Monarchs Summit. He helped to organize the event and hopes it will help conservationists find some answers.

Butterfly lovers from Massachusetts to Hawaii have flown in for the sold-out event.

Amanda Egertson with the Deschutes Land Trust is one of the organizers. She describes the orange and black creatures as stained glass on wings and she hopes they can be saved. This weekend she plans to share what her team is doing in Central Oregon to save Monarchs.

“We're doing has much habitat conservation as we can, including planting a lot of native showy and narrow leaf milkweed, as well as a lot of other pollinator friendly plants,” said Egertson.

Habitat destruction is one of the biggest factors contributing to the Monarch’s decline. The butterfly needs milkweed to lay its eggs in both at its overwintering sites, and at butterfly waystations up and down the West Coast. Unfortunately for the Monarch, urbanization has resulted in the removal of milkweed from swaths of land across the Western United States.

In addition to habitat destruction climate change and pesticides are also blamed for the butterflies decline. But why the population plummeted so drastically in the last year is still unknown.

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