What we can do about climate change: the Monarch

A funny thing about climate change: contrary to popular opinion, individuals can make a difference, here and there, for other people and other species. 

Example? The Monarch Butterly. Ask the experts at Monarch Watch, the leading conservation group devoted to this iconic species:

In California, Monarchs aggregate in more than 25 roosting sites along the California coast each winter. In the coastal forests, Monarchs find forests with all the right characteristics for overwintering. Many people, however, would also like to live along the California coast, which raises property values and increases the pressure to build, remove trees, and otherwise develop the land. With this in mind, conservationists created the Monarch Project in 1984. The Monarch Project works to protect California overwintering sites, most often through conservation easements of land. In a conservation easement, landowners set aside a portion of their land permanently as protected Monarch habitat. Often, conservation easements come about due to the collaborative efforts of the Monarch Project, government officials, land trusts, parks, public agencies, scientists, developers, and conservationists. In 1988, Californians gave this process a boost when they passed a bond for $2 million to buy Monarch sites. The Monarch Project has also worked to include information about Monarch sites in zoning laws and land-use plans, especially in areas such as Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz where large aggregations gather each year. Although there has been some progress towards protecting Monarch overwintering sites in California, high property values and the resulting pressure to develop land along the coast continue to threaten Monarch habitat.

In other words, habitat — and the species of milkweed they depend on — matters as much or more than climate. Plant milkweed, experienced SoCal gardeners say, and the Monarchs will show up to feed on it.

Frankly, I didn't believe it. But within days of planting — whatdya know. 


Jim Hansen, an icon himself as a climate scientist, has been tracking the fate of the Monarch, which on the East Coast is in a frightening decline. He speaks about this often, mostly recently at MIT, as notes from a student show: 

As long-time gardeners know, climate zones have been consistently shifting Northwards. Previously, this shift is now happening at the rate of a few kilometer per year, making it very difficult for many species to react. Hansen used the Monarch butterfly as his example of species extinction pressure, talking about his personal experience over the years with Monarchs on his small PA farmstead. The pressures on Monarch butterflies are not only climate but the elimination of one of their primary food sources, milkweed, although climate change is certainly one of the reasons for the diminishment of their habitat, both here in the US and Canada as well as Mexico.

But one can create habitat for these wonderful creatures, for almost nothing, and yes — magically, they will appear. Or such has been my experience. 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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