PISMO BEACH, Calif. - Twenty years ago, more than 100,000 butterflies would call Pismo Beach home in the winter. That number has fallen to around 20,000 this year.
Monarch butterflies comes from all over the western half of the United States, some traveling more than 2,000 miles to escape winter and spend it in Pismo Beach. However, visitors are seeing fewer and fewer ever year.
"More people, more houses, more congestion," says Richard Wood and his wife Janette, when asked what has changed at the butterfly grove since he started coming here two decades ago. "But it's still a neat place to walk around and enjoy the butterflies and relax. I hope they come back."
Even in March, past peak Monarch season, they say they have noticed the number of butterflies they see each year has been going down.
In the early 1990's, the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, which tracks the number of butterflies over-wintering up and down the California coast, recorded more than 100,000 Monarchs in Pismo Beach. This year, that number was 20,000.
"We see less milkweed now, and milkweed is vital to a Monarch's lifecycle," says Mallory Clausen, an interpreter with the State Parks system. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and their larvae feed on the plant. While they are not as important locally, the lack of milkweed during the summer matings seasons across the country leads experts to fear the butterflies could change their migration patterns.
California's long drought coupled with this winter's stormy weather has brought down hundreds of Eucalyptus trees inside their west coast habitats.
"We've had some big trees go down in our grove, as well as some other historical wintering sites off the coast of California."