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Habitat projects making a difference for California pollinators

By Jessa Kay Cruz on 11. January 2024
Jessa Kay Cruz

Every year, Xerces works with dozens of partners and gives away tens of thousands of plants through our habitat kit program in California. Last summer, we set out to visit a few of the more than 400 partners who have installed a habitat kit since the program started in 2019.  We want to stay connected with partners well beyond the time when people plant their kits, as building both long-term relationships and long-term habitat are central to restoring California habitat.

The fifteen different projects that we visited over the course of two weeks in early June ended up being one of the highlights of my year, and we are deeply appreciative of the partners who took the time to show us around and talk to us about their projects. Here are a few of the organizations making a difference for California monarchs and pollinators!


Placer County Resource Conservation District

We kicked things off with a visit to Placer County in Northern California, where the local resource conservation district (Placer RCD) has managed over a dozen different habitat kit projects over the past several years. The range of projects in the county is impressive – from a community garden where the habitat kits are integrated into small vegetable plots, to a park where the kit plants border a recreational trail, beautifying the area and supporting pollinators and other wildlife.


Xerces staff and partners laughing in a garden
It's all smiles at this urban garden in Placer county in Northern California. (Photo: Jessa Kay Cruz / Xerces Society.)


Contra Costa Resource Conservation District

From there, we headed to the central coast, where the Contra Costa RCD has been managing and implementing an impressive number of projects with local partners. We visited a middle-school farm and garden project, several urban farms working to create land stewardship, food sovereignty and employment opportunities for historically underrepresented communities, and an Indigenous women-led land trust. We were incredibly inspired by the ways in which the habitat kits have been used to  benefit both pollinators and humans alike.


Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center

Our next stop was in the heart of California’s central valley. The Center has planted extensive demonstration hedgerows from the Xerces Society’s habitat kits and holds outreach events and trainings on site, demonstrating how hedgerows can be integrated into cropping systems. Staff report that these events have been instrumental in building interest in conservation and on-farm habitat among local farmers.


People talking by a hedgerow
Staff from the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in California’s central valley talk about integrating their pollinator hedgerow into outreach programs. (Photo: Jessa Kay Cruz / Xerces Society.)


Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve

Our first week wrapped up with a visit to the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve in Santa Clara county, where a number of habitat kits have been integrated into natural areas using innovative, low-tech methods. The preserve was stunning and the views breathtaking!


Napa vineyards

Week two started with a day touring habitat kit projects at vineyards in the heart of wine country, Napa County. Winegrape growers throughout California have been among the earliest adopters of planting hedgerows, and among the largest demographic to participate in our habitat kit program. Vineyard managers shared with us the myriad of benefits observed after planting their kits, including increases in pollinators, reduced pest-pressure and reduced herbicide use.


Milkweed plants in soil
Milkweed from a Xerces habitat kit flourishes at a Napa county vineyard, providing habitat to monarch caterpillars and other pollinators. (Photo: Jessa Kay Cruz / Xerces Society.)


An urban garden in San Francisco

Our next stop was a peaceful urban garden space in San Francisco, where a local non-profit used the habitat kits to expand their extensive community farm and garden, a space used for education, community-building, providing wildlife habitat, and nourishing both the body and the soul.


Native flowers in ground with San Francisco neighborhood in background
Plants from Xerces’ habitat kits help create a space where both wildlife and humans can thrive, as demonstrated in this San Francisco neighborhood. (Photo: Jessa Kay Cruz / Xerces Society.)


Cattle ranch in Contra Costa

Our tour ended at a cattle ranch in Contra Costa County. The ranch’s caretaker was among the first to participate in the Xerces Society’s habitat kit program, and he has been steadily building on his progress each year, planting and maintaining acres of habitat. From birds to bees to butterflies, this ranch is surely an oasis for wildlife of all kinds with its restored riparian corridor, grassland meadows and prolific milkweed patches. We spent a joyful morning exploring the ranch and observing the habitat that was truly teeming with life.


Flowers and other native plants growing across a landscape
Wildflowers from Xerces’ habitat kits brighten up rangelands, like this one in the central coast of California. (Photo: Jessa Kay Cruz / Xerces Society.)


Refugia for people and pollinators alike

In addition to the joy of connecting with so many amazing partners, we were awestruck by the diversity of landscapes that are being transformed. Through this program, people are creating greenspaces in cities, parks, preserves, farms, ranches, schools and tribal lands. From coastal dunes to chaparral, oak woodlands to grasslands, and vineyards to vegetable gardens, our partners are forming a patchwork of refugia for people and pollinators alike. 



Jessa is the Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist for The Xerces Society in California, and a partner biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She manages and coordinates many aspects of the pollinator program in California and throughout the western United States. Since joining Xerces in 2008, she has worked in agricultural and natural lands throughout the western U.S. to create habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects, and to promote practices that support them.

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