Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove title=
Migratory monarchs have all but disappeared from Santa Barbara and Goleta’s eucalyptus groves, part of a dramatic decline in numbers across the country. | Credit: Courtesy
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

He rebuilt it, but they did not come.

More than three years after developer Ed St. George illegally buzzsawed Santa Barbara’s largest monarch grove at his Beach City apartment complex, and despite extensive restoration and replanting efforts to bring the migratory population back, the butterflies have still not returned. 

That was the main takeaway from a status report delivered by city staff to the Planning Commission this week, an official check-in that was part of St. George’s comeuppance for cutting down the 32 eucalyptus trees, for which he also paid a $95,000 fine and issued a formal apology. At the time, St. George said he removed the trees because they offered cover for nearby homeless encampments and posed a fire risk.

Since then, with the guiding expertise of local and state biologists, St. George has planted 60 coastal live oaks on the sprawling property that abuts Honda Creek, as well as 3,000 other plants meant to provide nectar and sustenance for overwintering monarchs. The biologists say the oaks, native to the Central Coast, are preferred for this habitat over invasive eucalyptus and have already grown considerably. Birds and other riparian species are already enjoying the new environment, they said.

“The restoration itself is going extremely well,” said Lawrence Hunt with Hunt & Associates Biological Consulting Services. It’s a challenging site, he said, on a 45-degree slope with sandy soil, but the greenery is filling out and will be a comfortable stopover for the butterflies, should they return. “We are sort of building a butterfly ‘Field of Dreams,’” he said. “If they come back, the habitat is there for them.”

Hunt said that sudden disappearances of monarchs like the one at Beach City and Honda Valley are taking place up and down the West Coast. “The monarch butterflies have suffered a catastrophic decline throughout the western United States,” he explained. “There are a lot of factors that are bringing to bear why we are not seeing any butterflies in the Santa Barbara area or Goleta.” Ellwood’s famously abundant population has all but vanished, Hunt said.

During this year’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, only 1,914 monarchs were observed at 246 California sites. That’s a 99.9 percent freefall since the 1980s, when millions of the species fluttered about the state. As recently as 2017, approximately 200,000 were counted, but populations began fully collapsing soon after. Scientists believe habitat loss and pesticide use are to blame. Precipitous declines are also being recorded on the East Coast.

Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to add monarch butterflies to the Endangered Species list, citing other priority species. They were instead put on a waiting list to be more fully studied at a later date. Representative Salud Carbajal wrote to the Fish & Wildlife director urging more immediate action “to ensure the monarch does not become the 48th species to go extinct while on the candidate list.” 

Though other news out of Beach City was positive, city planner Tony Boughman did have some concerns. He noted St. George and his team have been slow in reporting their progress to officials; have not planted vines to screen the sensitive habitat from car headlights, as they’d agreed; and have not installed signs alerting nearby residents that active environmental restoration is taking place there. Some of Beach City’s residents, most of whom are students at Santa Barbara City College right next door, have trudged through the area and left trash behind, Boughman said.

Also frustrating, Boughman added, was that no weeding was carried out last year in order to reduce competition among the new plantings. “There was an explanation given that COVID had something to do with it,” he said, “but we don’t really think that was a good excuse.”

Planning Commissioner Jay Higgins asked Boughman what could be done about the large homeless encampments that have recently sprung up along the SBCC side of the creek. Some even have their own hand-dug latrines, he said. “We’re back to where we were,” Higgins said of St. George’s original motivation to clear-cut the eucalyptus to discourage illegal camping. “We’re sort of in an infinity loop here.” Boughman said he and city staff are looking into the issue. “It’s a tough and continuing problem,” he said.

The commission will receive another status report from St. George in two years’ time, after which they asked to be kept updated in the longer term on whether the monarchs return.

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a-1631406778 Sep 11, 2021 05:32 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

As bad as St George's actions were, Monarchs are decimated nation-wide -- loss of land and milkweed; more and more herbicides and insecticides.

Population Overwintering in Mexico Falls Well Below Extinction Threshold
For Immediate Release, March 13, 2020

SBTownie Sep 11, 2021 06:25 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Wow. Had no idea about the St. George story. Awful, but also the eucs are not native and I don't believe they are the crucial issue with the monarchs as 5:32 pointed out.

I grow narrowleaf native milkweed for the monarchs. Two years ago I had tons of butterflies, caterpillars, and got to watch numerous chrysallis hatch into beautiful butterflies. Unfortunately I also had quite a few failed chrysallises due to fly infestation (they lay eggs inside of the caterpillars, often killing them before they go into chrysallis form or causing the chrysallis to fail). The loss of native milkweed habitat cannot be understated.

The other big threat is people trying to do the right thing but instead feeding monarchs with tropical milkweed, which does not go dormant in the winter, causing monarchs to lay eggs at the wrong time of year and harboring dangerous protozoans which infected monarch "cats" as I call the crawlers, also dooming them often to die. I saw several cats lost to this disease two years ago. Most nurseries are selling this bad milkweed, when they should only be stocking native milkweed which does not risk infecting the cats with the protozoan.

Last year, I had very few visitors to the milkweed garden. And this year I had even fewer. I saw a few cats here and there, and my milkweed was decimated a few times by aphids and milkweed bugs, but I never found even one chrysallis. It absolutely broke my heart.

I will continue to grow native narrowleaf milkweed for the monarchs and provide them nectar flowers nearby, but I fear it is too late. The insect apocalypse is coming. Every year we have fewer flying things and fewer creepy crawlers. Habitat loss and crucial food sources are a major problem, as is light pollution, but so are chemicals pumping through our environment every day. These causes cannot be underestimated. Everything from pesticides to manmade petrochemicals that cause endocrine disruption (like laundry fragrance pumping out of 90% of homes' dryer vents) are leading to destructive changes in reproduction across species.

Minibeast Sep 11, 2021 08:13 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Wait up. Hold on just one MF minute. Coastal Live oak? Lawrence Hunt with Hunt & Associates Biological Consulting Services et al. may not realize they're in Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara/Goleta, where the preferred Monarch butterfly roosting/bivouac sites are: Eucalyptus. Here the Monarchs roost/cluster exclusively in Eucalyptus. --------------Up until the late 1970s there were overwintering clusters at Butterly Lane right at The Music Academy = Eucalyptus. Houses were built, the Eucs were removed and there went that cluster site. ---------San Leandro Lane had some lovely old Eucs, but 80 acres became all mansions + some idiots thought they'd cut down the Eucs right next to the creek and turn the poles into "rustic"-look hand rails. There went that small-scale roosting place.------------Wilcox/DFP used to have a tiny population of Monarch butterflies that gathered in the Eucs there, but . . . now long gone. -------------Ellwood/Coronado Butterfly Preserve was the last stand, so to speak . . . in the Eucalyptus groves there. In recent years, the butterflies tried moving a bit more west on the property (to get away from disturbance by humans?), but the 60,000+ strong clustering Monarchs aren't to be found there now. Lucky to see a few handfuls of Monarchs, sadly. ---------All of the sites had one big thing in common: they were deemed by the butterflies to be their in perfect tolerance ranges. An abiotic dream for them, with just the right temperatures and humidity and shelter from the elements. I sure do hope we humans haven't managed to turn the Monarchs into an endangered species. Some of you may bluster and rage on against Eucalyptus trees, but . . . Live Oaks as a roosting site for Monarchs in Santa Barbara County? Since when?

SBTownie Sep 11, 2021 11:57 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

You are right that the monarchs need habitat in coastal areas specifically. In fact, no one living more than 5 miles from the coast should be planting milkweed as this can contribute to the monarchs ending up in areas that are not favorable habitat for their survival. Coastal range is their natural location.

Lew Riffle Sep 12, 2021 08:42 AM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Good! please take heed here! Milkweed along the coast does not help the monarchs. Plant other pollinator types. Monterey Cyprus should be included in the recovery plant lists since that is believed to be the true roosting tree for Monarchs. Big Blue Gums are imposters but alas they are liked by the Monarchs very much but are problematic in culturing a safe and sustaining plant community.

BDM 1868 Sep 11, 2021 08:35 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Fifty years ago there was a huge population at mesa Ln.
Then Brian Wilson or Mike love built houses next to the trees and they never returned.
In Goleta they advertised they Monarch grove people come and disturb them and now there gone.
They where in the Eucalyptus trees at san Jose creek then they built Marvilla they left!
Before the Frisbee golf course at Evergreen open space they where there. Kind of a pattern we need to leave them alone.

d8vanilla Sep 11, 2021 10:40 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

I think the Euc trees along the freeway near Montecito area, were resting areas for the Monarchs, so with all those gone, I'm thinking, the butterflies don't have the strength to make it all the way to Ellwod, plus, when they built those houses, they also messed up that natural creek that's on the property. I used to board my horse there for many years.... George Stiny leased it , then many years later, it was sold.

SBTownie Sep 11, 2021 11:55 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Thanks for doing what you can. I hope you have planted native narrow leaf milkweeds, and not the tropical varieties that are very common? The tropical variety harbor protozoans that infect monarchs and lead them to die early deaths as caterpillars, or to emerge weakened or deformed as butterflies. Oftentimes it is not even obvious the monarch is infected (the best way to tell with the eye is to observe the striping on their abdomen - you want clear, crisp markings, not muddied or dull marks) but they will fail to reproduce, migrate, or live very long. Please spread the word on the importance of native milkweeds, not tropicals. I see tropical all around town every day and it truly breaks my heart because I see people trying to help but actually ending up harming the monarchs in the process.

SBTownie Sep 12, 2021 12:03 AM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

This is a great article for anyone who would like information on why planting native milkweed is so crucial, and why we should not be planting tropical milkweed at all (the commonly seen form around town).

Byzantium Sep 12, 2021 09:23 AM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Eucalyptus was not introduced into this area until the mid 1800's, when they were planted in hopes of supplying wood for railroad ties. Turned out to be too brittle, but the California landscape was left dotted with many concentrated groves of this non-native species. What did the Monarchs use before that? Or did they.

Byzantium Sep 12, 2021 09:28 AM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Perhaps the rise of so many Monarch friendly back yard gardens now is allowing them to disperse more widely, but in similar numbers? I have planted both native and the red/yellow non-native milkweed - and saw far more monarch caterpillars on the non-native milkweed. Aphids however loved both in copious quantities. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has the native milkweed varieties for sale.

SBTownie Sep 13, 2021 03:31 PM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Pit, I had almost the exact same experience. Great two years ago. Far fewer last year. Almost none this year. Found no chrysallises this year or last. Two years ago I was able to catch at least one hatch a week and that was just the ones I found, so plenty more I'm sure I did not witness. Have looked around a ton in my yard and cannot find evidence of any empty chrysallises this year.

MarcelK Sep 13, 2021 11:08 AM
Despite Restoration, Monarchs Still Missing from Demolished Beach City Grove

Only about 500 species have been identified as becoming extinct since 1900. There are estimated to be nearly 9 million species, 1.2 million of which have been identified. However, 90% of the species did go extinct during the Permian-Triassic extinction 250 million years ago, probably due to a rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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