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.

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 2019, the California Association of RCDs (CARCD) launched a program to support RCDs in the development and implementation of their monarch- and pollinator-related projects.  With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, CARCD hired a technical assistance trainer to build RCD capacity. CARCD is also leveraging its existing partnerships with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, while building new relationships with the Monarch Joint Venture and Environmental Defense Fund to expand the reach and impact of RCD programs. Together, CARCD, the RCD network, and our partners are helping land managers adopt a suite of conservation practices that enhance and create pollinator habitat on public and working lands.

CARCD was awarded a Wildlife Conservation Board block grant with the purpose of providing financial support to RCD monarch conservation projects projects. With this funding, RCDs throughout the state will enhance up to eleven overwintering sites and develop nine breeding and nectar habitat projects, and expand their provision of technical assistance to landowners. 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.