Monarch Butterflies on tree branch in blue sky background at overwintering site

Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Conservation

Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are crucial for the reproduction of flowering plants and agricultural crops. Unfortunately, many species are threatened by a suite of interrelated factors including habitat loss and degradation, pesticides exposure, climate change, and disease. Notably, the western monarch butterfly population has declined over 99% in the past 20 years. In response, Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) throughout the state are expanding or initiating pollinator conservation programs to improve on-the-ground conditions for pollinators, with a focus on enhancing habitat for monarchs.

CARCD launched a program to support RCDs in the development and implementation of their monarch- and pollinator-related projects in 2019. That year, CARCD was awarded a Wildlife Conservation Board block grant with the purpose of providing financial support to RCD monarch conservation projects. With pass-through grants from this program, CARCD is funding 11 RCDs throughout the state developing 9 breeding and nectar habitat projects, enhancing 11 overwintering sites, and expanding their provision of technical assistance (planning, design, permitting, planting, monitoring, and more) to landowners.

Also in 2019, CARCD received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to hire a technical assistance trainer to build RCD capacity for pollinator conservation work. Building on the trainer’s work during 2020 and the NFWF grant, CARCD is supporting 7 additional projects involving 13 RCDs who are providing technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who want to create and restore monarch habitat on their lands.

Western monarchs breed west of the Rocky Mountains and overwinter along the West Coast, mostly in California. Each year, four to five generations of monarchs follow an established migration pattern: Beginning in early spring, they leave their overwintering sites and move in an easterly direction across the western states to breed, with each generation continuing the journey until the final generation makes the long journey west to overwinter and begin the cycle again. Tragically, the number of monarchs has dropped to the point where they risk extinction.

Researchers have determined that the most important strategies to bolster the western monarch population include protecting and restoring overwintering sites, increasing nectar resources along the migratory flyway, and increasing the availability of early-season native milkweed. Projects that target monarchs have the added benefit of augmenting habitat for other pollinators and wildlife. RCDs work directly with state, federal, and local agencies, landowners, communities, and other stakeholders; therefore, RCDs are perfectly situated to provide resources to monarchs throughout their range in California.

In 2021, CARCD continued expanding its monarch conservation work. A grant from the US Forest Service allowed CARCD to award grants to RCDs with shovel ready monarch conservation projects to pay for plant materials which will result in many additional acres of monarch habitat growing by the spring of 2022. And partnering with California-based company Legion of Bloom, CARCD funded a native milkweed and nectar plant sale and outreach campaign in Sonoma county and a project to pilot and document best practices for pollinator habitat creation on cannabis farms.

CARCD is also leveraging our other core programs and partnerships, including our carbon farming initiative, to help landowners enhance multiple ecosystem services through conservation planning that benefits pollinators while sequestering carbon.

For more information on monarchs, visit The Xerces Society or Monarch Joint Venture.

What Can I Do to Help Western Monarchs?

There are many ways Californias can help support the Western Monarch:

  • Plant native flowering plants (nectar plants) in your home garden, focusing on early- and late-blooming species that support the early spring and fall migrations
  • Plant native milkweed if you live 5 miles or more from the coast. Never plant tropical milkweed.
  • Ensure plants you purchase from nurseries are pesticide-free
  • Limit pesticide use in your garden
  • Become a community scientist by volunteering to collect data on monarchs and milkweed that help scientists and agencies make informed decisions and recommendations.  
  • Learn why planting tropical milkweed and/or hand rearing monarchs can harm rather than help them
  • Volunteer to help RCDs and other organizations doing habitat restoration and/or support them financially (contact info@carcd.org to learn more)