Like many impetuous college students, I would use any excuse to escape my academic duties. My roommate was an ardent surfer who lived locally. When the waves were up, several of us would jump into his car and hit the Southern California beaches. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t surf —growing up in the Midwest there weren’t a lot of opportunities to grab a longboard and carve some sets. Instead, I would wonder off to explore the coastline. One day, in a secluded area of Malibu, I walked into a stand of eucalyptus trees. What I saw literally stopped me in my tracks. Tens of thousands of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) were roosting on the eucalyptus branches. The trees were so inundated with the Lepidoptera, I couldn’t see boughs or leaves, only a mass of softly fluttering wings. What I experienced back in 1976 was a marvel of nature; the annual coastal migration from Canada of millions of Western Monarch butterflies.
On January 19 of this year, The Xerces Society released its annual count of overwintering Western Monarch butterflies along the California coast. They counted 1,914 Monarchs. This is a 99.9% decrease from its Thanksgiving counts dating back to the 1980’s. The Western Monarch, along with other butterflies are rapidly becoming extinct.
Like actors in an OhSoCal drama, Monarch butterflies have achieved celebrity status, but other insects like solitary bees and wasps that act as pollinators and food for animals are also declining at an alarming rate throughout the world. North Carolina alone is home to 2,800 species of moths, 550 species of native bees and 177 species of butterflies. That is why Killer Bees Honey is working with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to become part of its Wildlife Conservation Lands Program (WCLP). Clint Barden, the wildlife conservation biologist (District 8 - Division of Wildlife Management) has been guiding us in developing our property into a sustainable wildlife refuge for insects and their vertebrate forest brethren.
It’s been a journey. Back In 2016, we began utilizing the US & NC Forest Service for controlled burns on our property. Over the years we have employed mechanical fuel reduction strategies to clear invasive plants like rhododendron, and replace them with several thousand native plants. Hopefully at the end of this year our 75 acres will qualify for the WCLP. We are doing this to be a better steward of the land, to be a way station for migrating pollinators and birds. A better place not just for visitors like us, but a home for generations of insects and animals that pollinate 90% of the surrounding Pisgah Forest and the adjacent Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Update: On March 12 We were notified by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission that our WCLP application was approved and our property is now considered a wildlife refuge.
The above photo is of an Eastern Monarch and one of the hive girls of Killer Bees Honey sharing the same white Astor plant located at our home apiary.