Goleta to Close Its Monarch Butterfly Groves
Falling, Dead Trees Endanger Public and Habitat
About a tenth of the trees in Goleta's butterfly forests are dead, endangering not only the monarch habitat but also the public who flock to visit them.
The tens of thousands of monarchs that normally flock to Ellwood Grove are this year nearly outnumbered by the dead and dying eucalyptus trees, victims of drought and high temperatures over the past five years. Some of the 65-foot trees slump too closely to the public trails that crisscross Ellwood Mesa and its world-famous butterfly groves. The City of Goleta will soon be closing the area until dead and dying trees have been removed. The tree canopy now is largely open to the sky, causing conditions of too much wind and a loss of humidity and the stable temperatures that support butterflies. The monarch population plummeted to zero in February at Ellwood’s main grove.
The image at left shows monarch butterfly clusters; at right, the same tree surrounded by toppled, dead trees and the open canopy above insupportable to butterfly colonies.
Monarch butterflies in the Western United States have declined since a record high in 1997 of over 1.2 million counted that Thanksgiving. This year, the count was around 300,000. In Santa Barbara County, which has about 100 monarch butterfly wintering sites, about a third had butterflies, 70,601 recorded in November. Among Ellwood’s five butterfly groves, the numbers ranged from a high of 11,000 in December to a low of 122 in October.
Age is another factor for the ailing eucalypti — blue gum eucs live about 100 years, and many of those at Ellwood were planted as windbreaks for farms in the late 1800s, city planning manager Anne Wells told the Goleta City Council on Tuesday while explaining city staff’s plans to tackle the problem, which is large.
This chlorophyll image shows healthy green and dead red trees. Orange are stressed trees.