VCCF Animal Welfare Grant in Action – Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast

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Camp Arnaz’s newly planted monarch butterfly garden

by Lauren Graf

In July, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature categorized the migrating monarch butterfly as “endangered” for the first time ever, two steps away from extinction. Thanks to the Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast, one critical local project is helping to protect this incredible special.

The Ventura County Community Foundation visited the Girls Scouts of California’s Central Coast’s Monarch Breeding and Research Institute at Camp Arnaz to see the VCCF Animal Welfare Grant to the organization in action. With the help of the grant, GSCCC’s monarch butterfly garden at the camp has supported the monarch butterfly’s migratory life cycle by reducing flying distances between foraging and breeding sites and has increased and diversified the floral resources at their breeding and migratory habitat. The site, located in the lower Ojai Valley, serves as a campus for troops and visitors of all ages to participate in outdoor and environmental education and place-based learning through a variety of activities like archery, astronomy, equine care, STEM programs and more.

The VCCF Animal Welfare Fund grant of $5,000 helped create a 100-percent drought tolerant and native plant garden to foster the breeding of the native monarch. This butterfly-friendly garden was carefully designed by two high school campers to have a diverse color palette with a variety of stages, heights and colors year-round so the butterflies have a constant supply of food. The girls had never planted anything before this project, but by the end had learned so much that they were coordinating even the drip irrigation system. VCCF’s Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Lambert, Community Impact Officer Nathan Hickling, and Marketing & Communications Officer Lauren Graf were visiting during peak heat wave temperatures, but Chief Executive Officer Tammie Helmuth, guide for the visit, said in the cool evenings, the garden is covered with a kaleidoscope of butterflies.

Camp Property Manager Matt Meadows points out a lively caterpillar on a milkweed plant along the main lawn. Many more inhabit the plants across the camp, a sign of successful breeding thanks to the newly planted milkweed.

Alongside the majestic native oaks and sycamores, there are native milkweed plants across the property, a critical site for breeding and laying eggs as well as a source of food for monarchs. VCCF’s grant also allowed for the planting of pollinator milkweed throughout the camp. One of the main causes of the monarch butterfly population decline is the easy availability of orange milkweed at home gardens during their migratory time, which keeps the butterflies from wanting to move along the coast and makes them too lethargic to breed. To keep them active enough to breed and lay eggs, the insects need a variety of colors and bloom times to travel from plant to plant until migration time from November to February, which is why GSCCC’s butterfly garden focused on planting diverse flowers.

One unexpected difficulty of this project is that there is a best-practice limit for how many milkweed plants should be planted per acre, as large clusters of plants allow for easy spread of diseases, such as the OE parasite causing weakness and untimely death in caterpillars. The site is working with a researcher and following scientist recommendations to make sure they grow milkweed safely and sustainably. GSCCC also gives their excess seeds to other agencies to propagate, as they already have as many milkweed plants as there can be for their 36 acres.

If you are interested in adding native milkweed to your garden, please check out the Santa Monica Mountains Fund or the Xerxes Society.

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