“Eradication of milkweed both in agricultural areas as well as in urban and suburban landscapes is one of the primary reasons that monarchs are in trouble today,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Around the same time that California’s western monarch butterfly population took a record plunge in 2018, Yreka’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife office and the Siskiyou Gardens, Parks & Greenways Association planted numerous monarch waystations that will hopefully help to encourage an uptick in the species’ numbers.

Approximately 20 people met at upper Greenhorn Park in Yreka on Aug. 21 to take part in a guided nature walk that provided a chance to observe and learn more about the park’s monarch waystations and about the butterfly itself. Many of the walk’s participants – including USFWS guide Sheri Hagwood ­– noted that they haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly this year.

According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation – a nonprofit agency that conducts a western monarch Thanksgiving count each year – the butterfly’s population dropped 86 percent from 2017 to 2018.

One threat to the monarch population that waystations like those at Greenhorn Park specifically seek to address is the loss of milkweed habitat. Not only does milkweed provide vital habitat for monarchs, but monarch caterpillars feed only on milkweed, thus the plant is essential for the monarch’s survival.

Two of Greenhorn’s waystations are well established, with abundant, tall milkweed plants. The newer waystations, which were planted by the Yreka USFWS office in fall of 2018, still need some time to develop. The plants at the newer sites are still small and low to the ground. A good number of the plants did not survive. One waystation in particular will either need to be replanted or relocated, as nearly all of the plants put in the ground last year died. As for the other sites, Hagwood said they’ll be looking much fuller next year after they’ve had more time to grow.

Thirty-nine different plants were planted at each of the sites last fall, Hagwood said. Each waystation received 12 narrow leaf milkweeds, eight showy milkweeds, five sulphur buckwheats, three woolly sunflowers, three hoary tansy asters, three goldenrods, two mock orange plants, one currant plant, one Oregon grape plant, and one arrowleaf buckwheat.

The plants are selected in part based on when they bloom. When planting a waystation, Hagwood explained, the goal is to use plants that flower at various times throughout the year. In addition to being good for monarchs, the plants benefit other pollinators as well.

In addition to the five monarch waystations at Greenhorn Park, there is also one at Yreka High School, one at the north end of Yreka on Deer Creek Way, and three at the Oberlin Road Trailhead along the Yreka Creek Greenway.

“Eradication of milkweed both in agricultural areas as well as in urban and suburban landscapes is one of the primary reasons that monarchs are in trouble today,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.

“The good news is that planting milkweed is one of the easiest ways that each of us can make a difference for monarchs,” the NWF adds. “There are several dozen species of this wildflower native to North America, so no matter where you live, there is at least one milkweed species naturally found in your area.”

Hagwood gave advice to those who came on the walk for growing their own milkweed. She explained that milkweed seeds require cold stratification – being subjected to cold and moist conditions – in order to germinate. She recommended placing seeds between two wet paper towels in a Ziploc bag and then storing them in the refrigerator for 30 days. If the seeds start to sprout in the bag, they should be planted immediately.