By: Angela Laws, Endangered Species Conservation Biologist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; Marlene Milosevich, conservation volunteer and Jeanne Dodds, Creative Engagement Director, Endangered Species Coalition
The western monarch population has declined by more than 99% from its size in the 1980’s, with an 86% drop in the size of the overwintering population from 2018 to 2019. In response to this decline, The Xerces Society released a Call to Action, to identify the steps we can all take to help protect this species.
One step in this Call to Action is to restore breeding and migratory habitat in California. To that end, The Xerces Society worked with longtime partners at Hedgerow Farms to create “Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits”. Each kit contains 1600 transplants, including 800 native milkweed transplants and 800 non-milkweed native wildflowers to provide nectar. Each species included in the kit is a native, drought tolerant, climate-smart species used by monarchs and other pollinators. Funding for these kits was made possible by a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation Fund.
The Xerces Society was able to provide 32 kits to groups engaged in pollinator habitat restoration in California. The Endangered Species Coalition donated funds to some of the kits, including the two kits awarded to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge located in California’s Central Valley. Staff at the refuge have been working to restore habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. On October 27, 2019, Angela Laws from Xerces joined refuge staff and a team of dedicated volunteers to plant one of the habitat kits.
One volunteer, Marlene Milosevich, generously agreed to talk with ESC about her engagement with pollinator conservation and habitat restoration; here is our interview:
Jeanne Dodds: How did you become interested in pollinator conservation?
Marlene Milosevich: Several years ago, I was fussing over some heirloom tomatoes when I observed a neatly fashioned hole about 3/8 of an inch in diameter near the base of one of the plants. I was immediately incensed at the thought that some vile creature was going to damage the root system of my tomatoes. As I stood there, hands on my hips and staring indignantly down at the hole plotting the defense of my precious plants, a chunky bee cruised low across the ground and deftly dropped down into the hole. I was stunned, perplexed and fascinated. This was my first introduction to Svastra obliqua, a long-horned sunflower bee. I’ve been enamored ever since, pursuing the study of native bees and changing my gardening style to provide both food and nesting areas for them. Since I retired, I became a Master Gardener and California Naturalist through the programs offered by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and presented by the University of California Cooperative Extension Merced Office and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy respectively.
JD What motivates you to volunteer to create habitat for Monarch butterflies in California?
MM As I began to “Bee watch”, I observed a greater variety of bees, flies and wasps than I have ever noticed before. However, what became increasingly apparent was the lack of the larger butterflies such as the Monarch and the Swallowtail along with the lack of Bumblebees. I had observed these in abundance during my childhood but they seemed to be missing now. I have also noticed that most of our yards and gardens are sterile environments of mostly non-native, non-flowering shrubs and lawn. As more open areas are destroyed by developments and healthy habitats are lost, I feel compelled to do something to rectify the situation.
JD What role do you that public lands, such as wildlife refuges, can play in Monarch conservation?
MM In providing protection for a specific species like the Condor or in maintaining waterfowl hunting areas, we have inadvertently provided protection for some of the smallest and overlooked creatures such as the insects. These tracts of land in this most populated state in the union have become vital for it ensures these areas will be protected from development, hopefully into perpetuity. Areas of milkweed and nectar plants can be established and maintained with little inference from humans with mowers, pesticides and herbicides providing a safe haven for the Monarchs.
JD If you could tell others one way or share one reason to become involved with pollinator conservation, what would that be?
MM It enhances your life. It will bring back the wonder and delight you had as a child. Put down the electronics, step away from the screens, the phones and step outside. Observe the natural world… it’s just outside your door…that’s where the true reality is.