Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times

Residents in Dana Point are taking initiatives to create environmental sanctuaries for the monarch butterfly in order to combat habitat loss and uphold the namesake of the Monarch Beach area.

The Monarch Hills Homeowners Association formed a Monarch Butterfly Committee earlier this year to oversee the development of a Monarch Butterfly Waystation.  Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.

Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to central Mexico, where the winter conditions allow them a return flight in the spring. The establishment of waystations has been a way to combat habitat loss for butterflies.

According to the MonarchWatch.org, milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations. Registered waystation habitats include milkweeds, nectar and host plants for larvae and energy sources for adult butterflies.

“By creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation we are contributing to monarch conservation, an effort that will help assure the preservation of the species and the continuation of the spectacular monarch migration phenomenon,” said HOA President Ken Torbert. “Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall.”

Monarch Hills was officially registered as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation on June 21.

Dayna Anderson, a Monarch Hills resident, helped lead the efforts in the neighborhood to create the monarch butterfly-friendly garden.

“It doesn’t take much to make a difference. Even small groups like ours and my 6-year-old grandson can make a dent,” Anderson said. “Little by little, we can overcome big business and Big Pharma like Monsanto or Bayer and help the butterflies thrive once again. We can all stop using glyphosate-based pesticides (e.g., Roundup) and give both butterflies and also the bees a fighting chance. It’s a case of David and Goliath. We can make a difference.”

Monarch Beach is so named because its rolling hills once offered a breeding ground for the monarch butterfly. The butterflies were once seen there in large masses, but have disappeared from the area due to development and loss of habitat.

Monarch Hills isn’t the only local community to take the initiative in creating butterfly habitat. South Coast Water District has a “Water-Wise Demonstration & Butterfly Garden” designed by Jodie Cook. Kevin Alison works in plant propagation for Tree of Life nursery in San Juan Capistrano. He says planting milkweeds is most important in creating a butterfly sanctuary.

“It’s important to plant the natives, as the exotic tropical ones are shown to be detrimental and also host parasites,” Alison said. “Milkweed plants are the sole larval host plant for the monarch caterpillars.”

The adult butterflies are searching for milkweeds to lay their eggs so that their emerging caterpillars will feed on the milkweed leaves. The milkweeds naturally have toxic chemicals in the sap that the caterpillars are tolerant of. As a result, the caterpillars become toxic to birds and other predators as a defense mechanism.

“The milkweeds are important, but having other butterfly-attracting plants are equally important to provide nectar for the adult butterflies—such as buckwheats,” Alison said. “Once the caterpillars have enough milkweed, they seek a place to pupate and form their chrysalis and later emerge as a butterfly. Therefore, it’s important to have other shrub or trees around the milkweed, such as sages.”

For more resources and information on building a monarch butterfly sanctuary, visit Tree of Life Nursery’s website, californianativeplants.com or visit monarchwatch.org.

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