Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, held a press conference in downtown Pacific Grove on Saturday, March 27, standing behind a podium with the city's seal which features the iconic image of a monarch butterfly. One of his aides wanted to slap a Congressional seal over the city seal and Panetta said, "Not today!"
Panetta was there in the garden behind the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History to personally announce two bills meant to prevent extinction of the Western monarch butterfly that he and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, reintroduced on March 17, the Monarch Action, Recovery and Conservation Habitat, or MONARCH, Act and the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act.
"Today we want to highlight our appreciation for the monarch butterfly but unfortunately our depletion of the monarch species and yes, solutions to save the monarch butterfly," Panetta said.
The 2020 monarch count was the worst ever, with zero butterflies recorded at the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. The previous year the count was 642. In 1997 the number recorded was more than 45,000.
Only 1,800 total were counted at all the sites. The Xerces Society estimates that the monarch population has decreased by 99 percent since the 1980s.
"Unfortunately something is wrong, something is leading to shrinking numbers of the monarch butterfly," Panetta said. "The results are absolutely staggering." Monarchs are important as a pollinator of agricultural crops, Panetta said, "and we don't want to lose this bright, bright icon of our culture."
Despite the dire numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in December that it would not put Western monarchs on the Endangered Species list yet. Instead they listed the monarch's status as “warranted but precluded at this time by higher-priority actions." In other words, there were other species higher up on the FWS priority list for special protections.
The MONARCH Act would authorize $62.5 million for conservation projects and an additional $62.5 million to implement the Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan which was prepared two years ago by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The funding would be divided into annual installments of $12.5 million for each effort.
The first $62.5 million for conservation efforts could mean grants for overwintering areas like Pacific Grove's sanctuary, Panetta said during the press conference. He was joined at the podium by Mayor Bill Peake, as well as by Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers. Santa Cruz has two significant overwintering sites at Natural Bridges State Park and Lighthouse Field. Also on hand from P.G. were councilmembers Joe Amelio and Chaps Poduri.
The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act would provide grants for conservation of habitat along highways in the Western states, planting native milkweed and nectar plants along the migratory routes of the monarchs as they make their way from the Rocky Mountains and states along the Canadian border to the California coast each winter.