The Great Rescue Operation of Oregon’s Monarchs
The iconic monarch butterfly, only decades ago numbering in the millions in the west, is now threatened to the point of being considered for Endangered Species protection. With this knowledge, if you’ve read Part I then you’ve probably grasped the significance of the Great Rescue Operation of Oregon’s Monarchs (aka The Brookings Effect aka the Brookings Eggsplosion) and the impact it had on the small community of monarch conservationists in Brookings, Oregon.
An Unexpected Lesson
I relearned something valuable after publishing Part I. It’s the kind of lesson I appreciate relearning, one that serves as a fresh reminder of the good things in life. Let me explain.
Do you ever get the feeling you are bombarded with negative news? Lately, it’s a challenge not to get consumed with what appears to be a fairly significant imbalance of bad to good news. On some days despair knocks on the door of my soul as ‘newsworthy’ current events methodically chip away at my spirit whittling it down to something barely recognizable, remnants of it scattered and settling on the floor like dirty laundry in a teen’s room. I’m not saying this is how I feel every minute of every day. No, it’s a feeling that rises and falls depending on where I place my focus. By nature, I’m an optimistic person. I’ve just found in the past few years my optimism is spending more time on the bench than out in the field making me a sort of optimist in recovery.
Then last week happened. Already the story of the Brookings Eggsplosion (term coined by Robert Coffan) lifted my spirits. That story afforded me the hope and energy to pick up some of those loose pieces of my deflated spirit and neatly fit them back into place, like finding the lost pieces needed to complete a favorite puzzle.
The post I published relaying the Brookings Eggsplosion was a labor of love. I wrote it in the absence of expectations. I was merely sharing an incredible account that deserved to be told while honoring some of the players who deserved recognition. I didn’t realize to what extent I would emotionally benefit from telling this story.
As I’ve suspected, there are a lot of people who adore monarchs, in this case, the western monarch. But there are more than I could have ever imagined, actually. Witnessing the countless shares of my post was like watching a satellite image of lights coming on one city after the next after a blackout on earth. That visual was palpable to me. With each share and message, I could see the illumination up and down the West coast and inland to Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and beyond as far north as Canada. The shares, themselves, were already uplifting but it was the sheer magnitude of love for monarchs that blew me away. To think that this little winged being holds the kind of power that inspires countless individuals and organizations to care the way they do, to take action the way they have, and to be connecting as a community united by kindness the way they are, brings my spirit a sense of wholeness that transcends all the murky muckety muck that exists in our world today. It reinforces my long-held belief that despite the differences folks may have with one another, when a vulnerable being is in trouble, we rush in to help, instinctively knowing how this common goal is greater than the sum of all of our individual parts. To me, this epitomizes the definition of benevolent humanity.
But this story is not finished. In some ways, it’s only just begun, which allows us all to continue riding on this rainbow of kindred altruism. I think if we, together, continue to focus our efforts to saving the monarch butterfly, many species will benefit, including the human one.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read from the beginning, Part I highlighting Holly Beyer’s magical monarch experience and three key players in addition to Holly, Robert Coffan, Dr. Tom Landis, and Dr. David James.
Robert Coffan of SOMA stresses how SOMA does not generally consider captive rearing to be the best conservation strategy for monarchs but in the case of the Brookings Eggsplosion, it has demonstrably contributed to monarch conservation.
With the help of SOMA co-founder and tagging coordinator, Linda Kappen, all the monarchs were tagged before release so they can be tracked. Bend resident and ecologist Amanda Egertson is helping to collect the data that will be passed along with OE (a debilitating parasite of which all monarchs were tested) test samples to Dr. David James, founder of the Northwest Tagging Program in Washington State University and founder/admin of Monarch Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest.
The Brookings Eggsplosion turned out to be a remarkable case study for the western monarch. The effort of tagging and testing is already paying off because while some conservation organizations claim captive rearing to be unsustainable, so far, none of the monarchs tested positive for OE and several have been recovered along California overwintering sites. The coming months will continue to reveal the full extent of this phenomenon.
Recognizing Citizen Conservation Heroes
With the help of Robert Coffan of SOMA, I was able to sift through a lot of information detailing the specifics of this summer’s miraculous Brookings event. I contacted and interviewed several of the folks who were directly involved including foster parents who reared the eggs to adulthood and milkweed donors and transporters. I think every person involved deserves recognition for his or her admirable efforts, yet I’m only highlighting in alphabetical order ten of the dozens of people who were a part of this network of humanity that came together as a community with the sole purpose of saving the western monarch butterfly.
To enhance readability, I’ve divided this section into three posts. I plan to publish Part III in three days and Part IV three days after that. All of these posts are dedicated to the many organizations and individuals who are taking action to save our beloved monarch butterflies.
Here’s a quick shout-out to some of the organizations, many new to me, that shared Part I.
Monarch Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest
Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates
Western Monarch Advocates
Make Way For Monarchs
Milkweeds for Monarchs and Climate
Monarchs Migrating Through Ontario
Butterfly Love in SoCal
Monarch & Milkweed Network—Eugene-Springfield
Pelee Paradise Sanctuary Monarch Waystation #10275
UI Extension, Kootenai County Idaho Master Gardeners
I liked their heartening and educational message, “The Monarch Butterflies in our area are Western Monarchs. They overwinter in CA, not in Mexico. This story about Western Monarchs will warm your heart. It’s true, plant it and they will come. If you are looking for milkweed seeds, our office sells locally grown milkweed (swamp and showy) for $2.00 a packet. You generally get 50 seeds. Let’s entice them back to our area.”
This post, Part II, highlights two of the many monarch mamas in this story, Angela and Simone.
On October 27, Angela Bergelt, Rogue Valley monarch advocate and photographer (Tiny Wings Photos), tagged and released her 60th and final monarch. She bequeathed him a powerful name so that he may conquer the obstacles of his long journey ahead: Rocky.
Highs and Lows of Monarch Captive Rearing
In September with so few monarchs spotted in the Rogue Valley and none in her garden, Angela was shocked and thrilled to learn about the Brookings Eggsplosion (this term coined by Robert Coffan) and to be one of the surrogates to join in the team effort to raise as many healthy monarchs as possible, specifically by that late date, super generation monarchs.
For Angela, rearing and releasing Monarchs is magical and offers her a sense of well-being that she is “giving back” to the earth. She added it can also be ‘emotional’.
My guess is most foster parents can relate to Angela’s feeling emotional, yes? Releasing a monarch requires an element of letting go. Raising a monarch from an egg, feeding, cleaning up after her, witnessing her molt and change through each stage of metamorphosis and worrying about whether or not she’s been parasitized, wondering if you’re spraying her with enough mist to keep her hydrated or maybe too much mist and making her uncomfortable (my cats really never liked water), worrying she’s going to knock herself off her cremaster while spinning into a chrysalis, fretting the chrysalis may fall and dent, then hoping with all your might when she ecloses her wings fully expand and her proboscis zips.
It’s an incredibly rewarding albeit emotionally draining experience. We give them everything we have and send them off into the wild –wind or rain or fire—or into urban areas where there may be pesticide exposure or a lack of forage to sustain the energy needed to complete their journeys. So, it’s not uncommon for folks to feel a pit in their stomachs, a pang in their hearts, or to catch a salty little droplet escaping a tear duct. Now that the western monarch’s numbers have plummeted to the point of being considered for endangered species protection, there’s a tangible substance that gives rise to our worries.
Angela learned she will do anything within her power to help the monarchs, because when true passion translates to actionable behaviors it becomes a statement “of what you believe in”. She’s also gained invaluable lessons by rearing monarchs and having the opportunity to study their behaviors up close, and she’s also learning more about the importance of milkweed and its role in sustaining their lives through late fall.
To Angela, the most remarkable aspect of this experience was,
…hands-down the incredible teamwork displayed by everyone involved in the Brookings Eggsplosion. I was so impressed with the coordination efforts of everyone who could get back and forth to Brookings to pick up eggs and deliver buckets of milkweed for the long season and also the effort that has gone into documenting all the data that will hopefully help us understand more about what happened to these 4000 critters.
She believes the tagging program will reveal interesting data.
Why Angela Cares about Monarch Conservation
In 2015, Angela watched the movie Flight of the Butterflies the story of how it took Fred Urquhart 40 years to discover the eastern monarch’s secret hide-away in Central Mexico and prove the longest migration on earth.
This movie changed my life literally and Monarchs have become my passion. I remember thinking, ‘How did I not know the story of these creatures and their unbelievable migration and now they might be endangered? Good God, what can I do to help?
A curiosity propelled her into research to better understand the plight of the Monarch and to help these iconic butterflies exist longer on this planet. It was shortly after she found SOMA. With an ignited passion for saving monarchs, Angela jumped in with both feet and now plays a pivotal support role in helping SOMA plan their upcoming Western Monarch Summit and managing their Facebook page.
This passion is now my legacy for my grandchildren, and I’m thrilled about that.
Now that she is embarking upon her retirement years, she is looking forward – more than ever – to continuing the rewarding hobby of monarch advocacy, outreach, and education, which instills a sense of giving back to the planet and gives her the opportunity to meet the most incredible compassionate people along the way.
Monarchs have changed my life and I hope I can change theirs!
Sign up now for the Western Monarch Summit January 10-12, 2020
This will be the first-ever meeting where Eastern and Western Monarch advocates and experts will exchange data and learn from each other this year and for years to come to conserve the Monarch butterfly population. For more information, visit here. This 3-day event is open to the public!
Simone Coffan, a former French secretary for the American military, migrated from France to the USA in 1970. Married to SOMA co-founder, Robert Coffan, Simone is an active participant in the Southern Oregon monarch scene.
When Simone first learned about the monarch egg dumping in Brookings, there was no hesitation about helping. In mid-August Dennis Triglia sent an SOS, and it was immediately clear this was an emergency. Within a couple of days of Dennis’ call for help, Robert rallied 10 or 12 Monarchists to help raise the monarchs, and then he and Simone were on the road to Brookings to pick up eggs. They returned to the Rogue Valley with roughly 300 eggs that were distributed to the volunteer foster parents. This was only one of what I calculate to be eleven trips to and from Brookings for eggs and milkweed –divided by only a handful of people including Master Gardener Glenn Risley who sourced and harvested milkweed throughout the Rogue Valley and made four trips to Brookings transporting up to 40 gallons of cuttings returning on two occasions with eggs and cats. Once with 110 eggs/cats and the second time with 25 to 30 eggs/cats. Also Amanda Egertson who drove her family from Bend to collect eggs and Molly Monroe who drove hundreds of miles to release her monarchs. Their stories coming in Parts III and IV.
Simone and Robert’s final count of rescued eggs at their home was seventy-four eggs.
To Simone, it was a tremendous feeling to be helping out friends in Brookings, but most of all to be helping the monarchs. They had some casualties, some of the eggs did not hatch, and some of the first instars died. Forty-five of 74 eggs made it to adulthood all of which were tagged and tested for OE.
We really take it to heart when we lose some monarchs, but all in all, we are thrilled with the results. It’s always a very special moment to release a monarch. I really do feel like a parent letting an offspring go and I always hope that they will make it to where they need to go.
Simone learned that saving monarchs in large numbers results in more casualties. But the fact that the survival rate of monarchs in the wild is only 1-5%, compared to a captive-reared survival rate of at least 40% and often much higher, demonstrates the benefits of intervention, particularly with the Brookings Eggsplosion. The rearing and the outreach combined with the educational opportunities of this summer proved to Simone that monarch advocates did the right thing.
Why Simone Cares about Monarch Conservation
Simone sees infinite beauty in and is mesmerized by the monarch, which she calls a phenomenal species.
This little creature only has a single source of food on the planet which makes its chance of survival already jeopardized, then somehow can travel thousands of miles in four generations to migrate where it needs to go. They also have managed to have a super generation and I don’t know of another animal who has that unique ability, not even the salmon. All I know is that when I see a monarch or think of them, something big happens inside me and tears come to my eyes, If I want to believe in miracles, all I have to do is look at a monarch. Mother Nature at its best.”
The Best Gift On the Planet
On October 14, I received the following message from Robert and Simone:
Well, we released ‘Kenda’ this morning at 1100. She is part of the Brookings Monarch Egg-Splosion rescue. She was extremely feisty. I tried to lift her out from the enclosure and she would NOT let go of the paper towel lining the bottom! She was pulling it out with her! I had to wait patiently for her to finally let go a bit. She is average to slightly large, with a forewing of 49mm. Here’s a shot of Kenda getting her tag and also just after collecting the tape sample from her little abdomen that will be sent to Dr. James to look for any signs of the parasite OE. And here’s a shot of us letting her go. There is NO photo of her flying away because, man-oh-man, she took off for the sun in seconds.
It’s certain I’ll spend the next four months worrying about her, but no words could possibly articulate the unbridled joy I feel in having a monarch namesake. Weeks later after receiving this news I’m still beaming from sea to shining sea, and I have the Coffans to thank for it. ???
Part III, highlighting four more monarch advocates, is coming out in three days. Dear blog subscribers, please forgive me for the bombardment of emails you’ll get from these posts. Dear blog nonsubscribers, please subscribe. I’ll soon be writing about Life in L’Italia.
Many thanks to all the beautiful monarch conservationists who so willingly and patiently worked with me on this series.