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CA – State’s monarch butterfly numbers dip

Monarch butterflies cling to a blooming tree at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove on.
Monarch butterflies cling to a blooming tree at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove on.David Royal – Monterey Herald
The Monarch Butterflies that used to winter at Natural Bridges State Park, in Santa Cruz, have moved this year to nearby Lighthouse Field State Beach as seen here Thursday.The Monarch Butterflies that used to winter at Natural Bridges State Park, in Santa Cruz, have moved this year to nearby Lighthouse Field State Beach as seen here Thursday. David Horn — Contributed

Monarch butterflies, the beloved orange-and-black insects that return each winter to the California coast, are in steep decline, according to a new study released Friday.

Monarch populations have fallen 74 percent in the past two decades, from roughly 1.2 million in 1997 to 292,674 in 2015 along the California coastline where they spend winters escaping the cold, according to the most extensive scientific survey done to date.

“It’s pretty disturbing any time you have what was once one of the most common butterflies in the U.S. in decline like this,” said Emma Pelton, a biologist with the Xerces Society, a nonprofit group in Portland that published the study with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Most children can identify one bug, and it’s monarch butterflies,” she said. “We’re seeing this decline in our lifetimes. It isn’t over 100 years, it’s over 18 years.”

The butterflies along the California coast are struggling because of development in and around the forested groves where they spend winters, pesticides such as glyphosate and other stresses, Pelton said.

Several environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list monarchs as endangered, a decision the agency has said it will make by 2019.

 

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