Two congress members from the Central Coast and a senator from Oregon are calling for endangered species protections for the monarch butterfly. Western Monarch butterflies spend their winter months on the coast of California. They cling to eucalyptus trees in bright clusters of orange and black, but today very few can be found.
“Since the 1990s, we’ve had a precipitous decline, about a 99% decline of monarchs. This past season, in the last few months, our high count was 180 butterflies here in the grove. Last year we had about 6700,” said Stephanie Little, an environmental scientist for the State of California.
Little monitors the butterflies at the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove, which she said is the largest overwintering site for the species in California. Little said monarch butterflies face numerous threats.
“Climate change is a big one, habitat loss of the overwintering sites is a big one, pesticide use, it’s a lot of factors, not just a single one,” said Little.
The butterflies were left off the endangered species list in 2020 and essentially put on a wait list.
Central Coast congressional representatives Salud Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta co-authored a letter with Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, urging the US Fish and Wildlife Services to add the monarch butterfly to the endangered species list.
During a recent visit to Pismo State Beach, Rep. Carbajal said the designation would open up federal protections and resources.
“It makes those resources available. To ensure not only that actions are taken but funding is available for conservation plans," Carbajal said.
Doug Kern from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy says it’s important to raise awareness and educate people about the vulnerable monarch population.
“To go from millions to less than a couple thousand in two decades is very alarming,” Kern said.
Federal protections, he said, can help safeguard butterfly habitats while more research is done to identify additional causes for the decline.
“It’s time to act or once they’re gone, they’re gone, and that’s just a tragedy that we don’t want to be part of,” said Kern.