More western monarch butterflies are migrating to California for the winter this year, and biologists are cautiously optimistic that this is just the beginning of their resurgence.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the butterflies would head to the coast in droves, with biologists and volunteers counting more than a million every year. Due to pesticide use and habitat loss, the numbers have dwindled — only 30,000 were counted in 2019 and just 2,000 in 2020. Things are looking up in 2021, with more than 100,000 monarchs already counted so far this year.
This is encouraging, biologists say, and the number is expected to rise, as the count continues through Dec. 5. Richard Rachman, coordinator of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's annual Thanksgiving count in Los Angeles County, told NPR it's "kind of magical" to see so many monarchs at once, and with his partner he spotted more than 100 butterflies near a beach in one morning.
Biologist Emma Pelton with the Xerces Society said it's too early to know why there are so many more monarchs in California this year, and although she cautioned the butterflies are not out of the woods yet, she does feel that "nature has given us a second chance." The higher number of monarchs is "a really good reason to take to heart that there might still be time to make a difference," she told NPR, adding that if residents of the western United States want to help the butterflies, they can plant native milkweed and flowers in their yards.