A collaboration for monarch butterfly conservation
On a blustery October morning, a host of happy volunteers were seen at the Crooked River Wetlands placing hundreds of native plants to attract monarch butterflies.
Deschutes Land Trust has been partnering with the Crooked River Wetlands Complex to get more these plants in the community for monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
Deschutes Land Trust is a nonprofit organization based in Bend. They work throughout Central Oregon to conserve land for wildlife and scenic views in local communities.
"Just in the past few years, we have started getting more involved in monarch conservation," explained Stewardship Director for Deschutes Land Trust Amanda Egertson. "That has evolved a bit into pollinator conservation more broadly. But it really began as monarch conservation."
Egertson's education background has involved butterfly and songbird research for her master's degree in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. She has worked for Deschutes Land Trust for more than 16 years. She has led butterfly tours in the summer, and when doing large-scale restoration projects on their preserves like flood plain stream restorations, she indicated that they always make sure to include pollinator-friendly species that bloom from spring through fall.
"Whatever pollinators we have on our property—whether bees, bats, birds or butterflies, they will hopefully have the resources that they need."
Recently, Deschutes Land Trust has started to engage specifically in monarch conservation because of the severe decline that the Western monarch population has been experiencing. Egertson pointed out that there has been a lot of press coverage in the past two to three years on this topic. The monarch, (scientific name Danaus Plexippus), has black and white markings, and the larvae feed on the leaves of milkweed plants.
According to the Deschutes Land Trust website, the iconic Western monarch butterfly is in severe decline. As recently as the 1990s, more than one million monarchs were recorded overwintering in southern California. In the winter of 2017-18, around 150,000 monarchs were counted. In the winter of 2018-2019, a startling 20,456 monarchs were recorded.
The website goes on to say that habitat loss is a big factor in monarch population declines. Monarchs are directly linked to milkweed plants. Female monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed leaves; if there is no milkweed around when they are ready to lay eggs, they simply will not lay eggs. Milkweed is also the only food that monarch caterpillars eat on their way to transforming into a butterfly.
"For every 160 monarchs, we now have one," Egertson said. "We used to have millions that overwintered on the California coast, and we are down to next to less than 30,000 in the winter, which is crazy."
They partner with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the Deschutes National Forest, the United States Fish and Wildlife and many other community partners to do restoration on their land. When they started seeing the monarch declines on the news, they began brainstorming how they could do something on a local level.
"We thought, 'Oh my gosh, we could do something about this, and we could do something about this beyond our own preserve boundaries,'" exclaimed Egertson.
Their goal was to get more milkweed and other native pollinator plants out into the community. Specifically, she and 19 volunteers, including volunteer organizers Chuck Gates and Mary Pogany, met at the Wetlands on Tuesday, Oct. 13 to plant 300 milkweed and pollinator-friendly plants.
"Even though it was a blustery day and the soil was a bit challenging for digging, folks were happy to plant a little goodness in the ground," commented staff member for Deschutes Land Trust, Rebekah Ratcliff.
"We are so psyched to partner with the Wetlands and City to do just that," said Egertson of the collaboration. "As you may know, monarch butterflies and other native pollinators like bees, bats and moths play important roles in the natural world. Some pollinators—like the monarch butterfly—are struggling to thrive here in Central Oregon. But we can help by planting more milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants."
Egertson noted that milkweed is the monarch host plant, and in Central Oregon that includes showy milkweed and narrowleaf milkweed. They partnered with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Deschutes National Forest to acquire a large amount of showy milkweed seeds. The Deschutes Land Trust has been distributing tens of thousands of seed packets each year for the past two years. Interested people can get on their website and request packets of seeds, which will be sent to them for free.
The milkweed blooms are visited by many other pollinators as well. Recently, Deschutes Land Trust partnered with Clearwater Native Plant Nursery in Redmond to grow 2,00 plants, with 1,000 being a combination of milkweed, and the other 1,000 a variety of pollinator-friendly plants.
"His plants are incredible," she added.
Egertson said that last year, she also worked with local academic coach Sarah Klann, who had brought in some chrysalides to Lisa Kelly's fifth-grade Barnes Butte Elementary classroom.
"The kids got to watch them grow, eat milkweed, they formed their chrysalides and they came out of their chrysalides," explained Egertson. "I came back into their classroom once and they had their adult monarchs and tagged them and released them. It was a really powerful, wonderful experience."
If interested in getting involved in the monarch conservation project through Deschutes Land Trust, Amanda Egertson can be reached at:
Deschutes Land Trust210 NW Irving Avenue, Suite 102Bend, OR 97703Office: 541-330-0017Mobile: 541-678-2066
For more information on monarch conservation, visit:
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