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New numbers bring hope for Monarch butterflies on Central and South Coasts

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City of Goleta
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Monarch Butterflies at Ellwood Mesa in Goleta

The Monarch butterfly population in North America has been in decline in recent years, leaving biologists worried.

Compared to very low numbers last year, this year’s winter migration of Monarch Butterflies in our region, is bringing hope to the declining numbers seen in previous years.

The Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove at Ellwood Mesa is 137 acres of natural terrain, known for its population of Monarch Butterflies.

Every year, starting in October through early March, these butterflies migrate here and other areas of central & southern California, mostly coming from areas west of the Rocky Mountains, and south from Oregon & Idaho.

Traditionally they form huge clusters in groves like this, along the coast.

Last year – this usually abundant spot for seeing the Monarchs had just 16, says George Thomson, Parks Manager for the City of Goleta.

"The numbers have really declined in the last ten years, particularly at our site.

"We went from just under 48,000 butterflies coming here for winter in 2011, down to 16 last year.

"That's 16 without three zeros after it - just...16," he told KCLU.

Those numbers are increasing already this year, and it’s giving hope that the trend downwards may be improving.

"One of the promising things this year is that we are starting to see the numbers come back up but not really to the level where they should be.

"So we are hopeful but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us to really encourage the Monarchs to come back to this site.

"It's not just at Ellwood, it's across California," said Thomson.

The drought and loss of habitat are thought to be some of the factors contributing to the decline.

Thomson says conservation of Monarchs is important for many reasons.

"What's important about the Monarchs is they force us to understand natural life cycles.

"They force us to understand impacts to habitat. Force us to get outside of our own human experience and really strive to understand how can we help these little creatures," he said.

"When you see the population decline like it is, that's really an alarm going off."

Many in the local community visit the grove to soak up the magic of being surrounded by butterflies - like Brad Weals.

"It's a treat to see them clustered in the trees like that," said Weals.

The site is open sunrise to sunset with no admission fee, but the City of Goleta does accept donations to support the Monarch Butterfly Docent Program.