Every year, thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate to Pacific Grove, California, dubbed “Butterfly Town, USA.” There they spend the winter at Monarch Grove Sanctuary, a 2.7 acre parcel of land and one of the oldest and most permanent sanctuaries on the west coast. In 2009, just weeks before the Monarchs arrived to overwinter at the sanctuary, the city trimmed branches on which the returning Monarchs usually roost. That year, the Monarch population dropped to under 800 butterflies, down from nearly 18,000 in the previous year.
Volunteers at the preserve, led by videographer/citizen activist Bob Pacelli, took matters into their own hands. In a citywide effort dubbed “Operation Pacelli,” more than 40 boxed trees were brought into the sanctuary to buffer the winds blowing through the grove as a result of the trimming. Even though that effort was physically challenging for the volunteers to carry out, it was successful. That year, the Monarch numbers increased by more than 500%.
Motivated by their own progress and disappointed by the City's lack of attention to the urban preserve, volunteers became more active. City staff, volunteers, and scientists disagreed about how best to manage the sanctuary.
This small town drama is set against the backdrop of a global crisis. Monarch numbers are decreasing at alarming rates, and the Monarch migration, as we have known it, is in danger of disappearing.