One of the winter attractions in Santa Cruz is the eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges State Park, where Monarch butterflies overwinter. This past week I took out-of-town visitors to see the Monarchs. We were lucky in that it was a rare (for this winter) sunny day, and the butterflies were active and flying. However, there seemed to be far fewer than in past years, and when I asked the ranger what the population was this year, she said that at the Thanksgiving count there had been only 2,000. This left me shocked, because I remembered past years of tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of butterflies. Sure enough, a little research gave numbers of up to 170,000 at past counts and reports of all time lows for both the east coast and west coast populations.
I see this as another indicator of trouble in the environment, and it saddens me and frightens me for our future. Loss of habitat, loss of the milkweed (the exclusive food of Monarch caterpillars) due to herbicide spraying, and climate change: all are likely contributors to the butterflies’ decline.
I wish I could now post the solution to the problem. People are encouraged to plant the native milkweed. Don’t spray herbicides. Let’s each do what we can in our own small ways to preserve our beautiful environment. I hope the new year will bring some positive changes.