Monarch Butterflies Put on ‘Red List’ of Endangered Species

A Popular Roost for Iconic Butterfly, Santa Barbara County Has Seen Monarch Population Plummet over Last Decade

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has warned that the monarch butterfly lies on the brink of extinction. | Credit: Courtesy

A prominent international conservation organization placed the migratory monarch butterfly on its Red List of Endangered Species last week, warning that the iconic butterfly lies on the brink of extinction. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature — started by the brother of Aldous Huxley, philosopher, writer, champion of psychedelic drugs, and one-time Santa Barbara resident — made this finding on July 21, elaborating that climate change, insecticides, logging, forest fires, deforestation, and development have disrupted not just the monarch’s habitat but also its famed migratory cycles, in which the butterflies travel 2,500 miles. With temperatures spiking earlier in the year, the monarch’s migratory cycles are now being triggered before the milkweed plants on which they feed can mature. 

According to another international conservation nonprofit, western monarch populations have been especially hard hit, reportedly plummeting from a census of 293,000 in 2015 to 2,000 in 2020. To date, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has not listed the monarch butterfly as a federally endangered species, though two years ago, it did acknowledge the species was sufficiently challenged to qualify. Other species, however, were deemed more imperiled at the time and of higher priority. In the last year, monarch populations appear to have rebounded somewhat. 

In Santa Barbara County, monarchs have roosted in such dense profusion among eucalyptus groves that the City of Goleta features a monarch as part of its city logo. In 2011, 70,000 monarchs had roosted in groves located on Ellwood Mesa; by 2022, that number had dropped to 15,000. In an effort to restore monarch populations, many individuals have taken to planting milkweed in their backyards or on median strips as part of an ad hoc grass roots movement. Scientists are now saying that such planting might take monarch butterflies off course during their lengthy annual migrations, doing more harm than good.

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