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San Diego Mayor Signs Pledge To Help Endangered Monarch Butterflies

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San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined hundreds of other U.S. mayors when he signed the Mayors Monarch Pledge. Signing the pledge commits the city to take action to help the endangered butterfly.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The Monarch butterfly is one of the beauties of nature. The large orange and black monarchs are among the most easily recognized butterflies, but in the West they are also becoming among the rarest. Last winter, the population dropped to fewer than 30,000 in the Western us. A 99% decline. Since the 1980s recently San Diego mayor Kevin Faulkner joined city leaders across the nation in signing the mayor's Monarch pledge. In doing so, Faulkner committed San Diego to help the monarchs rebound by providing habitat and public support. Joining me is Patrick Fitzgerald of the national wildlife Federation, creator of the mayor's Monarch pledge. And Patrick, welcome to the show.

Speaker 2: 00:43 Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: 00:44 What are some of the reasons that the Monarch butterfly is in such decline in the West?

Speaker 2: 00:49 Well, the Monarch butterfly is one of our nation's most all known and beautiful butterflies and it like, uh, many other insects and pollinators, um, are, uh, facing struggles in the West end and the East. And, uh, the struggles for the Monarch butterfly include, um, habitat. Their natural habitat is not there in the same way it used to be. Um, they're facing challenges from climate change and, um, from pesticide use. And so they're, they're really facing many challenges today.

Speaker 1: 01:24 Now, many areas along the California coast from Santa Cruz to Pismo beach to here at UCS, DS, eucalyptus Grove have become famous for their Monarch butterflies. Do monarchs still visit those locations?

Speaker 2: 01:39 Um, monarchs, um, do still visit many of those locations. But what we do know, um, in the West is that the numbers have been declining dramatically. Um, since the 1980s. In the mid 1980s, there were about four and a half million monarchs that were, um, in, in the Western United States and overwintering and, uh, many of those well-known sites. And, um, just last year there were just over 28,000 butterflies that were documented, um, in those overwintering sites. So some are not seeing, um, any Monarch butterflies. Others are seeing, um, definitely lesser numbers. And in the past

Speaker 1: 02:18 now in signing the mayor's Monarch pledge, what kinds of resources does mayor Faulkner promise to devote to helping the monarchs?

Speaker 2: 02:25 So we're very excited that mayor Faulkner has taken the mayor's Monarch pledge. And in doing so, um, he, together with council member Jennifer Campbell and some others, um, are making a real commitment to creating a and restoring Monarch habitat within the city and helping to educate residents, um, about what they can do to help the Monarch. So, um, I've, I've spoken with the city and I know that they're already taking action. Um, they had a press conference announcing the pledge in December. They've already planted native milkweed, which is a critical host plant for the Monarch butterfly at city hall and they've begun reaching out to school districts and community garden leaders, um, and they're beginning to strategize about how they can create more habitat within, uh, San Diego parks and really looking at how they can do that through, um, the new, um, parks master plan that the city is working on. So they, they've just taken the pledge about a month ago, but I already have a, a number of projects underway.

Speaker 1: 03:28 What can individual San Diego ans do to make this city more friendly to monarchs?

Speaker 2: 03:34 Oh, that's a wonderful question. So, um, you can start right outside your, your front or back door. Um, and all Monarch butterflies need native milkweed, um, in order to, uh, grow and raise their, their young caterpillars. That's the only, uh, plant that those caterpillars were eat. So I would start right outside your door and look at how can I provide native milkweed, uh, for Monarch butterflies? How can I plant other, uh, wild flowers that can provide a nectar and so forth that the adult Monarch butterflies need? And then how can I get more involved in my community garden and my neighborhood, um, working with the city to take even even bigger actions.

Speaker 1: 04:16 Tell us a little bit, uh, more about the mayor's Monarch pledge. How did the national wildlife Federation come up with this approach to try to save and increase the population of monarchs?

Speaker 2: 04:27 Well, the national wildlife Federation has been working for many years to save and protect wildlife and their habitat. And about five years ago, we began a formal partnership with the U S fish and wildlife service, the federal agency, um, and others, and began looking at how can we really involve, uh, mayors and cities in, in taking more actions. So we, we know that, um, cities have hundreds of thousands of, of acres of land, um, through their, their park systems. Um, we know that they engage millions and millions of people across the country. So we launched the pledge in 2015, uh, in the city of st Louis, um, with mayor Francis slay and expanded to Austin, Texas. And we're now now approaching 600, uh, cities that are in communities that are engaged in the mayor's Monarch pledge.

Speaker 1: 05:21 As I mentioned, Monarch butterflies of course are beautiful, but they're also extremely important to the ecosystem and even our food supply. Can you tell us more about the role that they play as pollinators?

Speaker 2: 05:32 Yeah, so Monarch butterflies, um, other butterflies and especially our native bee species, um, are, are really important pollinators and, um, PO pollinators. Just to provide a, a quick definition, um, for folks, um, you know, pollinators, anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of a to the female part and allows for, um, uh, many plants to produce fruit and seeds and young plants. So, um, uh, a lot of our pollinating insects, um, including monarchs, but especially our native bees, um, are really critical to pollinating the food, uh, that many of the foods that we eat. Um, and, uh, and they're, they're also very critical to, uh, pollinating, um, wild plants,

Speaker 1: 06:24 you know, after all these years and end with everything that you've seen, how hopeful are you that the Monarch population across North America can be restored to healthy levels?

Speaker 2: 06:35 Tremendously hopeful. I think one thing that, um, we have seen, um, across the country is that, that people are passionate about this butterfly. Um, it has this miraculous, uh, migration in both the East and the West. It has this incredible metamorphosis that many, uh, young people study in school. Um, and it's, it's a butterfly that's inspiring a lot of action, um, to, to preserve habitat across the country. So it's facing tremendous stresses, but there's a lot of people paying attention to this, a little orange and back black butterfly and working to figure out how we can, uh, improve habitat and, and recover the species.

Speaker 1: 07:19 Well, I've been speaking with Patrick Fitzgerald of the national wildlife Federation, creator of the mayor's Monarch pledge, and Patrick, thank you very much.

Speaker 2: 07:28 Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.