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Supporting Community Efforts to Create Monarch and Pollinator Habitat in California

By Angela Laws and Jessa Kay Cruz on 26. August 2020
Angela Laws and Jessa Kay Cruz

Many insect pollinators are declining in California, including bees and butterflies. The western monarch population has declined more than 99% since the 1980s, likely due to multiple factors including habitat loss and degradation, pesticides, and climate change. One important step we can take to support these animals is to increase the amount of habitat available to them. In recent years, Xerces efforts have led to the creation of tens of thousands of acres of new habitat. One thing that we’ve learned from this work is that the cost of plants and uncertainty about what species to select are barriers for many groups wanting to take action. We realized that we could foster more habitat restoration work in California if we could help provide appropriate plant materials to partners. To this end, we worked with local native plant nurseries to create “habitat kits” that contain all of the plants needed to create a patch of high-quality habitat. Each kit includes a variety of climate-smart, locally native flowers that provide nectar for bees and butterflies, and where appropriate, native milkweed—the host plant for monarch caterpillars. There are more than a thousand plants in each kit, enough to make a lasting impact. We knew that there would be more people wanting kits than we could supply, so we put out an announcement and accepted applications. The application process for receiving these kits helped applicants develop a detailed implementation and management plan, and ensured that kits would be planted in appropriate locations to support monarchs with adequate protection from pesticides.


Each habitat kit included more than a thousand seedlings of a variety of climate-smart, locally native plants that provide nectar for bees and butterflies, and where appropriate, native milkweed. Removing so many plants from the growing containers takes care and time. (Photo: Ana Mariela Melgoza.)


Our kits were a great success. Last year, we provided 32 kits which supported 37 projects, and led to the creation of habitat in 20 counties across California. Some projects were on private land, but many of them engaged community volunteers and a significant number involved students and included outreach and education, spreading the word about the importance of pollinators and expanding the impact of the projects. Here are two examples of the impact achieved by last year’s projects.

Glenn County Master Gardeners. The Glenn County Master Gardeners (GCMG) applied for a kit to create habitat in schools and a demonstration garden in Orland and Willows, two small but diverse cities in the northern part of the Central Valley. Orland recently became a Bee City USA affiliate, which made the award of a kit even more appropriate. The kit was divided between the GCMG demonstration gardens at the county courthouse in Orland and two schools, Orland High and Murdock Elementary in Willows. A total of one acre of habitat was created.

In addition to the plantings, the master gardeners worked with educators to teach the students about pollinators and gardening. Shortly after GCMG received the kit, a local landowner contacted us offering to donate seed from a large milkweed patch. The master gardeners were interested, and plan to have the students help to grow the seed into seedlings, which they can take home to plant or add to school gardens.


The Glenn County Master Gardeners divided a habitat kit between several sites in the small cities of Orland and Willows. Here 5th graders at Murdock Elementary School in Willows work to install irrigation to sustain the newly planted garden. (Photo: Donna Moore.)


California Native Plant Society. Members of the Los Angeles / Santa Monica Mountains chapter of the California Native Plant Society have been working for several years to restore habitat at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve (managed by LA recreation and parks). They have worked to clear invasive plants and plant native species. They were awarded one of our 2019 habitat kits and used it to further their restoration efforts. This is an extremely dedicated group of volunteers who have been hand watering the plants. They started out by carrying water to the site, until the city parks department was able to set up irrigation and a 200-foot-long hose for them to use. They have continued their efforts to restore the site, adding seed in the spring and continuing to control invasive plants. They’ve had good success establishing plants and are happy to have an increase in plant diversity and availability of pollen and nectar for pollinators at their site.


At the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society organized volunteers to assist with planting the kit. CNPS members have been working for several years to remove invasive plants from this site and restore habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. (Photo: Nurit Katz.)


Given the success of the kits, we are providing free kits for a second year. This year, we have added shrub kits that can be used in hedgerows, as well as kits appropriate for riparian areas. Again, we had to accept applications, and this fall will be providing kits to 23 partners, including California Resource Conservation Districts, farmers, ranchers, schools, tribes, and public agencies. Kits will lead to the creation of nearly five miles of new hedgerows and at least two acres of wildflower meadows in a range of settings: farms, natural areas—including private, state, and federal lands—and urban areas.

Although we have awarded all of the kits that our funding allows for this year, kits can be purchased from participating nurseries for anyone interested in taking action to support monarchs and pollinators. The nurseries are Hedgerow Farms in Winters, CA and Floral Native Nursery in Chico, CA. Contact nurseries directly for more information.

Ensuring that there is high-quality habitat, protected from pesticides, is fundamental to the survival of the monarch butterfly and so many other insects. We hope to make these monarch and pollinator kits available again in California next year and are also working to expand our kit program to other parts of the country.


Further Reading

Learn what you can do to save monarch butterflies in western North America.

Find the appropriate plants to support bees and butterflies in your region.

Read more about our work to protect monarchs and other pollinators.



Based in Sacramento, California, Angela is working on habitat restoration for pollinators and monarch butterflies in the Central Valley. Her role at the Xerces Society also involves incorporating climate resiliency into pollinator restoration projects. Angela has over 15 years of experience studying arthropods in grassland habitats, including studies of how climate change can affect species interactions. She received a master's of science in ecology from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Notre Dame.

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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