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Recent storms deal setback to Monarch Butterfly population

Posted at 9:34 PM, Jan 20, 2023

Hundreds of people are gathering this weekend in San Luis Obispo for an International Monarch Butterfly Summit.

Experts are closely monitoring the monarch butterfly population after recent storms, but say they are cautiously optimistic.

Sunny skies have returned to the Pismo Beach monarch butterfly grove which is drying out from recent torrential rainfall.

“This time of year, when they’re roosting in the trees and vulnerable, then it could be a bad thing, particularly with the wind,” said David James, who is a professor of entomology at Washington State and is visiting for the monarch summit.

He surveyed overwintering sites on his way to the Central Coast and says that recent storms have made a dent in the butterfly population.

“The good news is that some sites did quite well and didn’t lose many butterflies while others did,” explained James.

Experts say it’s too early to tell how much of an impact the storms had on the monarch population.

“This year, there was going to be 300,000 or more before the storms came,” said James. “We hope it’s a minor setback. We’ve had two very good years now following the really bad year when there were just 2,000 monarchs counted at all the overwintering sites in California.”

Protecting the iconic species is the topic of the three-day International Monarch Summit that kicked off Friday night at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo.

“We’ve learned especially with the ravaging fires we’ve had and now these big storms that the monarch butterfly is a pretty resilient insect,” said Robert Coffan who is the chair of Western Monarch Advocates.

Experts say that monarch butterflies can migrate an incredible distance.

“They go from Manitoba in Canada to central Mexico, 3900 miles,” said Rachel Taylor who is visiting from Utah. She says she has found monarchs in Pismo Beach that traveled roughly the same distance as she did.

“I didn’t personally follow them, but I tagged one that was then found in Pismo Beach 603 miles away,” said Taylor.

Locals are also optimistic about the butterfly population rebound which is also being seen at Trilogy Golf Course in Nipomo.

“We have had some years where we have had no monarchs, but this year we had 1,800,” said Nipomo Resident Betty Sleeth.

Experts are hoping for a couple of weeks of cool and calm weather to help the monarchs rebound.

More than 200 people from 13 states and four countries are in San Luis Obispo for the monarch summit which runs through the weekend.