Western monarch butterflies are making a comeback, but there’s still work to be done

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After years of sharp declines, the western monarch butterfly population is seeing a surprising and welcomed rebound in the western United States. In recent years, counts of the iconic pollinator have been grim with fewer than 2,000 butterflies counted in 2020. However, the latest survey from the Xerces Society counted 247,237 butterflies across 283 sites in the 25th annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, indicating there’s still hope for saving the western portion of this emblematic insect species.

“Last year, we experienced the near-extinction of the western migratory monarch. This year, it’s thrilling to see an increase in the California coast overwintering monarch numbers” said Dr. Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, chief monarch recovery strategist for the National Wildlife Federation. “While we are eager to celebrate these numbers, this is no time to let up on conservation efforts. Restoring and protecting native habitat for monarchs, reducing our reliance on pesticides, and implementing climate adaptation strategies continue to be among the most important actions we can collectively take to help monarchs and many other pollinators. There’s still work to be done but I’m optimistic for the future of the species.”

“We’re ecstatic with the results and hope this trend continues,” says Emma Pelton, the western monarch lead with the Xerces Society. “There are so many environmental factors at play across their range that there’s no single cause or definitive answer for this year’s uptick, but hopefully it means we still have time to protect this species.”

Compared to the millions of western butterflies reported in the 1980s, the 247,237 recorded this year still has a long way to go toward a self-sustained population size according to the Western Monarch Conservation Plan. The Plan calls for a 5-year annual average of 500,000 monarchs by 2029. To achieve this, the recovery of the western monarch population will require a much larger number of monarchs per year than the latest 2021 Thanksgiving Count.

Recovering the western monarch needs continued public and private investment, legislation, and on-the-ground work to restore and protect their natural breeding areas, migratory corridors, and the California overwintering habitats. Investment in conservation is crucial. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act aims to support imperiled species, such as the monarch, before more expensive measures are required. And the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act (or Monarch Act 2021) will provide the required funding to implement the Western Monarch Conservation Plan.

You can help the western monarch butterfly by:

  • Gardening for wildlife by planting native milkweed and native nectar plants that will support monarch caterpillars and monarch adults, respectively.
  • Reducing the use of pesticides.
  • Encouraging western local leaders to join the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge.
  • Engaging in community conservation actions such as habitat restoration, education and outreach and local policy changes to benefit monarch butterflies.
  • Enrolling in monarch conservation, community-based science opportunities in your community.
  • Calling on legislators to support needed policies, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the Monarch Act 2021

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