Resource conservation districts jump into action to help save the monarch butterfly


The recent staggering decline of the population of the western monarch butterfly to just 1% of its levels 20 years ago has prompted resource conservation districts (RCDs) throughout the state into action. RCDs are working on a multi-pronged approach to help save this iconic species, including improving management of coastal overwintering sites and creating breeding and migratory habitat. RCDs are developing new monarch conservation programs while also integrating monarch conservation practices into their existing programs. RCDs are also engaged in education and outreach to help raise awareness about the status of the monarch and encourage farmers, ranchers, and homeowners to take part in the species’ recovery.

In 2019, the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) was awarded a monarch block grant from the Wildlife Conservation Board. Through this funding source, CARCD was able to fund 13 RCD-led projects distributed throughout the state, bringing over $700,000 to local economies to enhance pollinator habitat and bring back the monarchs. Many RCDs have already started project implementation.

Yolo County RCD’s Hedgerow and Milkweed Planting Blitz

In the Central Valley, the Yolo County RCD partnered with the Center for Land-Based Learning’s Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship program to install a pollinator hedgerow near Woodland. They incorporated plant materials from the Xerces Society’s monarch and pollinator habitat kits to create habitat that provides nectar resources throughout the year. They planted over 1,250 milkweed plants plus an additional 700 pollinator plugs. The Yolo County RCD plans to install phase two of this project in 2020, which will further expand monarch and pollinator habitat on the property.

Pollinator hedgerows with flowers

The pollinator hedgerow designed by Yolo County RCD to provide habitat for monarchs is already in bloom and attracting pollinators at the Center for Land-Based Learning’s property in Woodland, CA. Photo courtesy of the Yolo County RCD.

Alameda County RCD Finds Opportunity for Habitat on Ranches

In the Bay Area, the Alameda County RCD planted three areas with flowering plants and milkweed species on Calhoun Ranch in the Livermore Area with the assistance of the California Conservation Corps. The planting also relied on Xerces’ monarch and pollinator habitat kits. The planting locations were selected to test the establishment and persistence of milkweed species on rangeland in irrigated and non-irrigated settings. Alameda County RCD is also partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to plan additional monarch conservation projects on rangelands to create a series of waystations to enable monarchs to breed and refuel during their annual migration. The RCD will also work with the East Bay Regional Parks District to assess and enhance two overwintering sites in the region.

Gold Ridge RCD Plants Multi-Benefit Pollinator Habitat

On the north coast, the Gold Ridge RCD partnered with Point Blue Conservation Science to install an 1,800 ft riparian buffer along a degraded creek. The planting included species that will provide a wide array of nectar resources for monarchs in nearby overwintering sites. This riparian restoration project will also improve local water quality and wildlife habitat in addition to supporting monarchs. In 2020, Gold Ridge RCD began partnering with the Creekside Center for Earth Observation and local public land managers to develop management plans for three overwintering sites in Sonoma County.

young children gather on a hill with shovels

Third graders participating in Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed program (STRAW) helped plant the riparian restoration along Ebabias Creek in Sonoma County. The planting contains monarch nectar plants. Photo courtesy of the Gold Ridge RCD.

RCD of Greater San Diego County Collaborates with the Pollinator Alliance

In southern California, the RCD of Greater San Diego County is working with the San Diego Pollinator Alliance to develop local sources of milkweed for breeding habitat projects. Once local plant materials are more widely available, the RCD will promote its “Grow Native Milkweed” campaign to encourage residents, gardening groups, schools, and land managers to use local milkweed sources. With a wide array of partners, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the California Native Plant Society, the RCD is also developing nectar and milkweed plant species recommendations to help guide local habitat restoration efforts.

Solano RCD’s Demonstration Pollinator Garden with a “Puddler”

Also in the Central Valley, the Solano RCD is in the process of developing a half acre pollinator garden at their Conservation Education Center. In spring 2020, they established four milkweed patches in the garden, covering just under one tenth of an acre. This coming winter, they will add nectar plants as well as a “puddler” where butterflies and other pollinators can access water and minerals. They plan to host volunteer events to demonstrate how to create small-scale pollinator habitat. They will continue to reach out to the local community to teach them about what they can do to help play a role in monarch conservation.

In 2020, RCDs will continue to create monarch habitat throughout the state in high priority areas along the monarch’s migratory flyway. The diverse array of projects will provide much-needed resources to play a key role in monarch recovery efforts. To learn more about what RCDs are doing to support monarchs please visit our webpage or connect with your local RCD.

Correction: In the original blog post published May 29, 2020 the number of milkweed plants planted by the Yolo County RCD was mistakenly listed as 1,250,600. It was corrected on the same day to 1,250 plants.