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Monarch butterflies return to California in higher numbers after record low


People along the California coast have a chance to pause in coming weeks, take a breath and watch the migration of Western monarch butterflies. Just as many people do, they come to California for its moderate temperatures. They wait out the coldest parts of the year. And as they do, biologist Emma Pelton takes part in a butterfly census.

EMMA PELTON: We counted almost 250,000 butterflies.


Pelton is a biologist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Two hundred fifty thousand is a big number, and I, for one, would not want to be the person standing there counting. But Pelton finds some reassurance in it.

PELTON: In the last few years, we've seen the population do some pretty funky things and really crash. The population is about 5% of what it was in the 1980s.

MARTIN: In the 1980s, millions of monarchs flocked to the West Coast. Then, by 2020, their numbers had dropped to fewer than 2,000.

INSKEEP: Wow, that collapse may be linked to destruction of habitat or climate change, though to some extent, it's a mystery, just like their partial recovery.

PELTON: We're not out of the woods yet, and one year of 250,000 butterflies is not recovery. Half a decade ago, this would not have been an impressive number of butterflies.

MARTIN: So while Pelton is pleased, she and others still want monarchs to be added to the endangered species list. She wants legal protections so some future generation can also witness the marvel of so many butterfly wings.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIFTY EARTH'S "PINECREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.