Ceremony planned 10 a.m. Thursday at Little Bear Patch garden

The Brookings Oregon Monarch Advocates (BOMA) have applied for a Monarch School designation for Kalmiopsis Elementary School to teach students the importance of the popular butterfly and encourage its survival.

If the application is accepted, the elementary school will be the second Monarch School in the nation, said Dennis Triglia, a Brookings city councilor and BOMA member.

The BOMA group formed last year to raise monarch butterflies and encourage Brookings area residents to plant milkweed — the insects’ favorite food — to create a stopover for the colorful butterflies on their annual winter migration from central California to Mexico City.

Locally, BOMA members have raised the butterflies, placed tiny tags on their wings and set them free. Many tagged butterflies were later spotted — with powerful binoculars — hanging in massive clumps on trees in Pismo Beach, California, a major wayside for the insect.

Butterfly health

The number of monarch butterflies has declined precipitously — by about 80 percent in the past 20 years — according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks the iconic black and orange insect.

“Roughly 99 percent of North American monarchs migrate each winter to fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico,” the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) website reads. “Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees that have turned orange by the clustering butterflies.”

In the mid-1990s the population was estimated at nearly 1 billion butterflies, but this year’s population is down to approximately 93 million, the center’s website reads.

“Monarchs are threatened by a host of sources destroying their habitat and food, but studies have shown that a main source of their catastrophic demise decline has been genetically-engineered crops, engineered with resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide, which has dramatically increased the pesticide use on their habitat,” CBD officials said.

An estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. has been lost to herbicide spraying and development, the CBD site continued. The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying along with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate herbicide sprayings. In addition to glyphosate, monarchs are threatened by other herbicides including dicamba, Enlist Duo and neonicotinoid insecticides, which are toxic to young caterpillars.

Scientists say unseasonable weather last year, including late-spring freezes that killed both milkweed and caterpillars, followed by a warm fall that kept late-season monarchs from migrating, are also responsible for the insect’s steady demise.

Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains dropped to a five-year low of 200,000 butterflies in 2018, down from 1.2 million two decades ago. A recent study found if current trends continue, the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years — and more than an 80 percent chance of extinction within 50 years, the CBD reports.

A 2016 study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that due to ongoing low population numbers, there is between an 11 percent and 57 percent risk that the Eastern monarch migration could also collapse within the next 20 years.

Scientists estimate the monarch population needs to reach 225 million butterflies to be out of danger.

In 2014, conservationists led by the CBD and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The agency’s initial decision indicated that might be warranted, and will make a final decision by next June.

The ceremony

A ceremony is slated for 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Little Bear Patch garden south of the parking lot at Kalmiopsis Elementary School. There, two banners featuring the different genders of the butterflies will be hung, and visitors can see the beginnings of a new pollinator garden and a meadow habitat created to attract pollinators of all kinds and constructed by Statia Ryder of the Curry Watersheds Partnership.

Following the ceremony, there will be a barbecue potluck. Attendees are asked to bring a small store-bought dish; the school does not allow home-cooked dishes due to liability issues.

Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to both Triglia and Michelle Prudden; his address is trigliad@yahoo.com and hers is Michellep@brookings.k12.or.us.