monarch butterfly

Scottsdale City Council approved a nationwide pledge to help preserve monarch butterfly habitats. (Grayson Smith/USFWS)

Scottsdale has joined nearly 600 other cities nationwide in committing to the preservation of monarch butterflies.

On Jan. 14, the Scottsdale City Council voted unanimously to adopt the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge at the behest of Keep Scottsdale Beautiful, a local nonprofit. 

Brad Newton, chair of the Keep Scottsdale Beautiful board, said cities play a key role in preservation.

"One of the requirements from the National Wildlife Foundation was to bring awareness to local officials," Newton said. "Cities play a critical role in saving the Monarch population, by assisting engaged citizens, as well as providing public spaces that can be used has habitats."

Arizona lies along the migratory paths for eastern and western monarch butterflies.

Municipalities commit to create habitats for them and help educate the community on how it can help protect the species.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the population of monarch butterflies has declined by 90 percent over the past 20 years.

The pledge drive started in St. Louis in 2015.

“It's kind of an all-hands-on-deck ‘how can we say monarch butterfly?’ said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior director of community wildlife for the National Wildlife Federation.

The decline is the result of habitat loss, pesticides, natural enemies and loss of milkweed, a perennial plant that hosts the butterflies, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“These once frequent visitors to Scottsdale are facing substantial loss of habitat, not only here but across the continent,” Newton told council.

Fitzgerald said that the NWF encourages communities to plant milkweed at parks, gardens and on roadsides along with other native flowering plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.

Newton said the city and Keep Scottsdale Beautiful are committed to doing just that.

"Twenty years ago, more than a billion Monarchs made the migration to Mexico," Newton said. "Today the population has declined by 90 percent. Scientists attribute this to a loss of habitat, and the city has made it clear they are committed to working with us in creating hospitable environments to help ensure a safe migration."

Fitzgerald said the NWF targeted cities and other local municipalities with its pledge because there is already a lot of work going on at the state and federal levels to support the species.

“We felt like there was a big opportunity at the city level and at the local level to engage mayors, to engage departments, to engage the public works and planning that are thinking about what to plant and how to landscape,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said the NWF has seen butterfly growth in the cities that have taken the pledge.

But it’s unclear how much the pledge has impact that growth.

 “The eastern  population numbers have increased a little bit over the last couple of years, but the time scientific consensus is that is largely due to favorable weather,” Fitzgerald said.

The eastern population winters in Mexico.

The western butterflies, which winter in southern California, reached an all-time low of around 27,000 in 2018, according to the Xerxes Society, a nonprofit that advocates for the conservation of invertebrates.

The population was around 4.5 million 20 years ago, Fitzgerald said.

According to Xerxes’ Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, the count saw an insignificant uptick to 29,418 in 2019.

“There is no meaningful difference between the western monarch population this year and last. In addition, in both years the population has been less than 30,000 butterflies, the threshold below which the migration may collapse,” according to the Xerxes Society.

By adopting the pledge, Scottsdale committed to adopt at least three actions to preserve the butterflies.

According to city documents, the city is already well-positioned to accomplish that goal, and not anticipate incurring any additional expenses.

The city is already host to monarch-friendly habitats throughout the city.

“The city already has butterfly gardens (at) Scottsdale Ranch Park, Granite Reef Senior Center and, the newest, created in 2019 at Rotary Park and at Paiute Neighborhood Center,” according to a council memo.

The city’s maintenance workers also already plant milkweed and native nectar plants along many areas of city right of way. 

The city plans to identify additional areas to plant these plants in the future.

Both the city and Keep Scottsdale beautiful also committed to working together to educate the community.

Newton thanked the mayor and council for adopting the pledge and said an official mayoral proclamation is forthcoming.

"We will work with the city’s park maintenance to identify areas where Monarch friendly plants, such as desert milkweed, can be planted in areas owned by the city," Newton said.

The NWF is hopeful that the continued growth of Mayor’s Pledge will yield significant results.

“We’re really working hard to get more cities engage in the western United States,” Fitzgerald said.

The NWF is also working with private partners, including Scottsdale-based homebuilder Taylor Morrison to create open space and habitats and monarchs and other wildlife in the company’s communities.