How Packard is Helping Monarch Butterflies in California

The monarch butterfly used to migrate in vast numbers from the upper reaches of the US and Canada down to Mexico. Every year, millions of butterflies would travel over 2000 miles to avoid the harsh northern winters. In recent years however, monarch populations have plummeted. In order to preserve these ailing creatures, the Packard Foundation (see IP's profile) is funding a Monarch Sanctuary at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History in California.

Pacific Grove, just south of San Francisco, has been a longtime monarch butterfly rest stop. Each year, starting in October, over 25,000 monarchs overwinter in this small Californian town. Residents are proud of the butterflies and Pacific Grove has been nicknamed “Butterfly Town, USA”. Strict regulations protect the butterflies, such that “molesting” a monarch can lead to a $1000 fine.

Each year, Pacific Grove also receives large groups of tourists, eager to see the monarchs. The Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary, part of the town’s Museum of Natural History, is now working on an a permanent exhibit so that visitors can see the butterflies year round. The proposed pavilion will use butterflies farmed in California and will provide a platform to educate the public on the plight of the butterflies.

Migratory monarch butterflies use to number in the millions— nearing one billion butterflies, according to some estimates. In 2013, only three million monarchs made it to Mexico (compared to a low of 60 million in 2012). Reasons for the decline include loss of habitat and the use of pesticides. In the spring and summer, the monarch’s natural habitat includes fields of milkweed; in the winter they spend their time in the pines and eucalyptus trees of California or the mountains of Mexico. Unfortunately, much of their natural habitat is being replaced by agricultural fields and urban developments.

The Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary has received a $55,000 from the Packard Foundation to design the butterfly pavilion. The construction of the pavilion itself will be funded by community events and donations collected over the next few years. The pavilion is expected to be up and running by 2015. Grantees take note— the Packard Foundation appears ready and willing to fund small projects that have an impact on endangered species.