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Ahead of winter monarch butterfly migration, backyard conservation encouraged

We’re a little over a month away from the annual monarch butterfly count.

Every year from around Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day the black-and-orange insects can be spotted on the Central Coast but we’ve seen a troubling trend in recent years.

For every 160 monarch butterflies, there were around in the 1980s, there is only one left today but those with a green thumb could make a difference.

Studies have shown that backyard conservation, providing a food and nectar source and a place for the butterflies to lay eggs, is an incredibly important tool when addressing the declining population.

Moving in from the Rockies, Nevada and Utah, western monarch butterflies are en route to Central California for the winter.

“You expect to have some good years and bad years. Last year was a surprisingly bad year given what great weather we had so we’re hopeful that we’re going to see a rebound,” said Steve Windhager, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Executive Director.

Ellwood Mesa used to be known for its butterflies but conservation groups estimate that the Monarch Butterfly population has plunged by 86% in the last two years.

“Everyone in Santa Barbara and along their migration train could play a role in supporting the population. Backyard conservation, planting milkweed in your own backyard, can not only bring these insects these beautiful butterflies into your own backyard, bringing life and variety but also to sustain the species,” said Windhager.

Windhager explains why milkweed is a vital native plant for the less than 30,000 insects wintering along our coastline. “The monarch caterpillars eat the milkweed because the sap is poisonous to some animals and the caterpillars become poisonous to some birds and it makes them sick if they eat the caterpillars.”

Windhager says milkweed is easy to grow and the time to plant and be a part of the conversation effort is now.

If you’re in need of some native milkweed you can pick some up at the Botanic Garden during their Annual Fall Native Plant Sale happening now through November 4th.

KEYT 2019

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