The Goleta City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Management Phase 1 Implementation Plan, which lays out the work the city needs to do to improve the monarch butterfly habitat, reduce wildfire risk and improve public infrastructure at Ellwood Mesa Open Space.
Goleta’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat Management Plan was adopted in 2019 and covers about 90 acres. The Phase 1 Implementation Plan covers 60 acres and, according to the city’s webpage for the project, is funded by a $3.9 million State Coastal Conservancy grant, while fuel reduction and fire safety measures are funded by a $1.7 million Cal Fire grant.
“Decisive action to restore critically important habitat for the western monarch butterfly is necessary at Ellwood,” said George Thomson, Goleta parks and open space manager. “The City of Goleta is positioned to be a leader in this nationally significant conservation effort, and we are bringing the best available science and technology to help the iconic monarch butterfly.”
The implementation plan includes replanting more than 1,200 eucalyptus and native trees in the monarch butterfly habitat areas, installation of more than 100,000 native plants to increase nectar sources, a new irrigation system for plant establishment and future emergency tree watering, removal of several thousand dead eucalyptus trees, a new wooden footbridge to provide accessible access across Devereux Creek, trail and signage improvements, rehabilitation of butterfly viewing areas, reconstruction of emergency and maintenance vehicle access, and more.
This project is especially important as the western monarch butterfly population is declining throughout the United States, mostly because of loss of habitat, drought and increased use of insecticide.
“Western monarchs overwintering in coastal California have declined more than 95% from their historic size and the migratory population faces a high risk of extinction,” said Emma Pelton, senior conservation biologist for the Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation. “The Ellwood Mesa monarch overwintering sites are among the most important habitat areas — of the hundreds of sites in California where monarchs spend the winter, Ellwood is ranked as the fourth-highest priority to conserve.”
In addition to approving the implementation plan, the Goleta City Council approved two agreements to establish relationships with local universities. The agreements include UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration — which will provide land stewardship such as native seed collection, invasive plant removal, erosion control and more to rehabilitate the butterfly grove — and with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Plant Conservatory, which will provide eucalyptus trees to restore the microclimate needed for the monarch butterflies.
Staff at the UCSB Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration is also set to assist with a new community stewardship program and lead volunteer work days.
The implementation project is now set to go before the California Coastal Commission for approval next spring. The city said that once all permits are approved, the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Management Phase 1 Implementation Plan is expected to begin next summer.
More information on projects relating to the Ellwood Mesa Open Space and the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Management Plan is available on the city’s website here.