California’s resource conservation districts are restoring the habitat the imperiled monarch butterfly needs to survive


Early counts of western monarchs arriving to coastal California for overwintering this year are alarmingly low, making work to save the species more urgent than ever. Fortunately, resource conservation districts are in the process of creating habitat to help increase their population.

Sacramento, CA, December 10, 2020Six of California’s resource conservation districts (RCDs) were awarded pollinator habitat plant kits by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The kits contain climate-smart native plants that support monarchs and other wild pollinators. RCDs, working with partners and volunteers recently began planting so that the habitat will be ready for monarchs as they move to breeding sites along their annual migratory flyway in the spring and summer.

Early count numbers from Xerces’ Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count suggest that the western migratory population is headed for an all-time low. Based on the preliminary data, Xerces estimates we may see fewer than 10,000 monarchs overwintering in California this year. This is a tiny fraction of the millions of monarchs that visited overwintering sites in the 1980s and the hundreds of thousands of monarchs that graced California’s coast as recently as the mid-2010s, and this year’s numbers demonstrate how crucial the work to save the species has become.

Researchers have determined that along with protecting and restoring overwintering sites, providing nectar resources along the migratory flyway and increasing the availability of native milkweed are the most important strategies to bolster the western monarch population. “The Xerces pollinator habitat plant kits, which were provided specifically for use on working lands like farms and ranches or public lands such as parks, gardens and wildlife preserves, are an important tool to save western monarchs”, said Karen Buhr, executive director of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. “RCDs work directly with landowners, communities, state, federal, and local agencies, and other stakeholders to do boots on the ground conservation work, so they’re is well qualified to make the most of the kits.”

Xerces habitat plant kits were awarded to Coarsegold RCD, Guadalupe-Coyote RCD, Mariposa County RCD, Placer RCD, Solano RCD, and Yolo County RCD. Projects included planting pollinator friendly hedgerows on farms and restoring key riparian habitat on rangelands, public lands and tribal lands. After planting the nearly 3,000 plants from the plant kits, RCDs will have created the equivalent to almost two miles of high-quality habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

“Xerces has been partnering with RCDs for years”, said Jessa Kay Cruz, Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist at Xerces. “It’s going to take all of us doing our part to save this species, and RCDs play a critical role in working with landowners and managers to plant and maintain monarch habitat. The combined technical expertise and implementation skills of our partnership enable us to execute projects using research-based strategies that have the best chance of success. We were very happy to be able to provide the kit to these RCDs and look forward to seeing the results in the spring. Hopefully this timely work positively impacts the butterfly population.”

The California Association of Resource Conservation Districts is a 501c3 non-profit membership-based organization dedicated to serving as a strong advocate, technical resource, and partner to the state’s 95 Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs). RCDs make conservation happen on-the-ground by partnering with local communities on a voluntary basis to care for California’s land, water, soil, and other natural resources.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is a nonprofit organization that protects the natural world by conserving invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is a trusted source for science-based information and advice and plays a leading role in protecting pollinators and many other invertebrates. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, plant ecology, education, pesticides, farming and conservation biology with a single passion: Protecting the life that sustains us.