Populations of the insect, which once swarmed across the United States on their annual migrations from Mexico to Canada, have fallen off a cliff over the last century. California’s butterflies are on the brink of extinction, while eastern monarchs, which fly up the Great Plains or over to Maine, have declined 80 percent.
In their winter habitats in the mountains of northern Mexico, the monarchs cluster together so tightly that their populations are tabulated not by the number of individual butterflies, but by the total area they cover. The long term restoration goal for the eastern monarchs is a stable winter population of 6 hectares—an area of about 11 football fields.
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