The Mount Shasta Monarch and Pollinator Program

By: Dr. Arielle Halpern

Pollinators are critical to the maintenance of plant life and ecosystem diversity on this planet and to our continued access to food. Pollinators are species of birds, bats, bees, butterflies, and animals that help to move pollen from one plant to another. Due to the spread of monocropping (single species farming), the degradation of pollinator habitat, and agricultural pesticide use, pollinator populations are in drastic decline. It is estimated that pollinators are required for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and the generation of one third of the world’s food.

Monarch butterflies are one of the most charismatic species of pollinators encountered because of their beauty, cultural significance, and the degree to which broad scale environmental issues have impacted their numbers. Their preservation is a cause around which political dignitaries have rallied when agreements on other areas of foreign policy have been challenging: Mexico, Canada, and the United States recommitted to preserving hundreds of thousands of hectares of butterfly habitat during the Three Amigos Summit in Ottawa, Canada in June of 2016.

Every year, Mount Shasta plays host to migrating monarch butterflies. Not only are monarch butterflies one of a number of important native pollinator species, they are a species that has been given a great deal of attention in recent years because of their extreme decline due to habitat conversion, pesticide use, and climate change. In 1983 the monarch migration was listed as an ICUN Endangered Phenomenon and the species itself was listed in 2014 as ‘Vanishing’ by the Endangered Species Coalition. Between 1997 and 1998, the western monarch population was reduced from over 1,200,000 individuals to less than 600,000. Western monarchs migrate from overwintering grounds on the Pacific Coast to areas in northern California, Oregon, and Washington where they will spend the summer and breed. Two to three generations of monarchs will be born in these summer breeding areas before the fall migration back to overwintering sites.

Mount Shasta and the surrounding areas in northern California are on the migration route for the western monarch butterfly population, this area has been shown to house breeding monarchs as well (Jepsen et. al, 2015). The most important element of supporting monarch populations in their migration is the maintenance of suitable habitat for them to rest, eat, and drink.

Fortunately, steps to support monarchs are not only easily accessible, they have broader benefits to forests, native plant communities, and food systems across the state. Local, native nectar plants used by monarchs including species of Asclepias (Milkweed), Solidago (Goldenrod), Ceanothus (California Lilacs), Penstemon (Beardtongues), and Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush) also support populations of other native butterfly, bee, fly, and hummingbird pollinators. Proper forest management strategies can help enhance communities of these important native plant species.

The Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center in collaboration with the Siskiyou Land Trust (SLT) and College of the Siskiyous (COS) is launching the Mount Shasta Monarch and Pollinator Program with the aims of 1) Assessing the current state of migrating monarchs in our area including timing of arrival, location, and number, 2) Restoring monarch and native pollinator habitat in appropriate SLT-stewarded areas, and 3) Creating opportunities for student and researchers from COS and beyond to come and develop projects investigating the ecology, conservation, and behavior of monarch butterflies and pollinators.

Watch the video from our last presentation below, and find out how to get involved by signing up for our mailing list here.