LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — The monarch butterfly is instantly recognizable to most people, but the iconic creature is in trouble. As monarch populations continue to decline (with western populations being hit the hardest), conservationists and scientists are tracking the pollinators to try to figure out what is causing them to die off.

Utahns can help solve the case by joining the Utah Pollinator Pursuit program.  

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the monarch butterfly has declined by 85 percent over the last two decades. Some populations have been hit harder than others. For example, the western population – which includes the monarchs that migrate through Utah – has declined by 99 percent.  

Butterflies may appear to be delicate and it’s true to some degree, but the monarch is also a survivor. Monarch butterflies migrate between Mexico and Canada. Some of the butterflies can travel nearly 3,000 miles. However, something has been causing the butterflies to decline for at least two decades and conservationists are trying to figure out what may be the cause.   

“The more diversity of pollinators you have and the more biodiversity we can maintain, the more likely the whole of that function is going to continue,” Sageland Collaborative ecologist Mary Pendergast told ABC4.

Pendergast explained that roughly one out of every three bites of food a person consumes is only made possible due to the work of nature’s pollinators. She said diversity among pollinator species is important because they are active at different times of the year and pollinate plants that bloom at different times of the year.  

Pendergast said pollinators are like cogs in a clock. If one quits working, the clock can continue to keep time. However, if too many cogs get stuck, the clock stops functioning. She said each type of pollinator is like a cog in the clock. It is important to figure out why one cog isn’t working as it should before others stop working as well leaving the clock, or the environment in this case, out of order.

For that reason, Sageland Collaborative has a program called Utah Pollinator Pursuit. “To put pollinators on the map,” according to Pendergast.  

According to Sageland Collaborative: “You and your friends and family can make a huge difference for pollinator conservation by simply watching our training, downloading an app, and recording sightings of bumble bees or monarchs. You can record them in your garden, on a walk, on a hike, or anywhere you see them! You can also choose to steward a site for deeper involvement over the summer. It’s a simple way to have a big impact on local conservation.”

Utahns can sign up by clicking here

“Utah is a big puzzle piece there,” Pendergast stated. “How are they migrating from their wetter, warmer, overwintering grounds and moving to migrate and reproduce?”  

Young Living Foundation is also working to improve conditions in Utah for monarchs. Senior Scientist Tyler Wilson has helped lead the organization’s efforts to identify milkweed that is native to Utah and implement monarch waystations at the company’s farms.

“So, in Utah, I believe, there are 18 different species of milkweed that are native to this area, so they need one of those species,” said Senior Scientist Tyler Wilson. “That’s all they eat.”

Wilson told ABC4 that for decades, milkweed was intentionally removed from many different areas and may have played a role in the decline of the monarch. The foundation also gives milkweed seeds to people who are looking to add the plant to their own gardens.  

“They’re beautiful pollinators,” Wilson said. “They’re beautiful creatures and if we can help bring those population numbers back up, we should.”    

Pendergast told ABC4 that this makes studying the iconic, yet mysterious, butterfly even more important. She said that all recorded information goes directly into state records. By learning more about where populations are doing well, Pendergast said, the state can make educated decisions about conservation.

The information will help conservationists know where to prioritize dollars, restore habitats and what areas to protect in order to provide breeding grounds for these species in decline. Pendergast explained that because of the wet, late start to spring, Utahns could see monarch butterflies into October this year.

This means there is still a lot of time for people to join the project and log their sightings.