Sterling Hills Golf Course

Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Habitat

Camarillo, CA

00:00:07:17 - 00:00:29:22
I first became interested in monarch butterflies about 25 or 30 years ago in my backyard garden. The butterflies were just coming fast and furious. Western Monarch has had a 99% population decline since the 1980s. I wanted to take additional steps to try to help save them. So this was actually a pilot program for monarchs in the rough.

00:00:29:22 - 00:00:43:09
The golf course was nice enough to give me a parcel of land where it was an out of play area. Nothing was growing here, so they gave this to me to create a monarch and pollinator habitat.

00:00:43:09 - 00:00:57:09
A lot of volunteers came out planted a lot of plants, including milkweed, nectar, plants and a succulents and drought tolerant plants that we also put in here. So we were able to buy mature plants, mature milkweed, native milkweed.

00:00:57:09 - 00:01:25:16
We were doing some experimentation with the different types of milkweed that we could offer. The activity right now is actually blowing me away, but I'm really excited about in this habitat is I think that we've taken kind of the perfect combination of drought tolerant plants like succulents, milkweed, nectarine plants and everything that a monarch butterfly and all

00:01:25:16 - 00:01:39:06
The pollinators would just love and put it all together in one place. This basically surpassed any expectation that I have. You can do this in residential areas as well. It doesn't have to be all native wear. It sometimes looks like a jungle.

00:01:39:06 - 00:01:52:01
You can have organization, but you can have the highest in the conservation. I think that's possible. And you know what? It was a lot of hard work, but I would rather be doing this than sitting behind any computer any day.

Establishing a Monarch Butterfly Habitat

At Sterling Hills Golf Course (SHGC), an unused out-of-play area was identified for preservation and enhancement, and in particular to create (not restore) a new Monarch butterfly habitat. The goal was to establish an insecticide- and herbicide-free environmentally sensitive area that all pollinators could utilize.

It is important to note that no native milkweed or nectar plants had grown in that area since the golf course and community was developed. A successful pollinator habitat does not need acres of land, but rather less than a quarter acre of land is preferred. Expansion can always be considered but starting small with a grassy patch in a parking lot or a small pollinator island in a community park also works extremely well.

At SHGC, an experiment for a local conservation effort produced a habitat filled with Monarchs and other butterflies, birds, bees, moths, hummingbirds, and a large variety of California native and nectar plants, and low-water-use succulents adapted to drought situations.

During the peak activity months starting the spring, western Monarchs move inland and breed in habitats containing milkweed. Scientists believe a separate population of “resident” or regional Monarchs are present and occur in areas where the weather is mild all year, as in Southern California. These Monarchs will live their entire life in one place, breed year-round, and will not migrate. These year-round resident populations are primarily using non-native milkweed species such as tropical milkweed and balloon plant for winter breeding, which may pose a problem for them if the tropical milkweed is all but removed for native species since the native species go dormant in the winter. It is still recommended to cut down tropical milkweed at the end of October, and again by Thanksgiving to simulate dormancy and not confuse the migrating Monarchs, and also to reduce the amount of OE parasite that tends to build up on old tropical milkweed leaves.

The following is a timeline of the creation of the Monarch butterfly habitat at Sterling Hills Golf Course.

Selecting & Designing the Site

May 24, 2020

Summary: The site was chosen due to the area being out-of-play on the left side of the #11 Par 3 Tee Box. The area contained a mature sycamore tree, pampas grasses, wild fennel and wild carrot that already supported pollinators. As a result of a labor shortage for the golf course maintenance crew, a decision was made to turn off the sprinklers to that area and only mow the remaining grass and weeds occasionally to keep from becoming unsightly. This area was also in full view of many houses so anything being added would have to be accepted from the residents.

A design was created to build three gardens with a wide decomposed granite path in the middle for easy access by equipment and carts. A short-acting herbicide was used only under the path to kill the invasive grasses that may recur.

Clearing and Grading the Site

May 31, 2020 - June 18, 2020

Summary: Scraping the existing grass out of the area and regrading for drainage. Adding pathway in the middle for equipment access.

First Plantings on Site

June 22, 2020

Summary: Milkweed, succulents, and nectar plants are introduced. Heavy clay soil is amended with organic material. Golf course maintenance staff helped provide the labor needed. Milkweed plants had been delivered one week earlier, and Monarchs already started laying eggs on the plants before the plants were installed in the ground!

Habitat Pathway Install

June 24, 2020

Summary: Large pathway of decomposed granite is installed, to make an easy access area to pull through equipment, access plantings beds easily for weeding and re-seeding. Pathways are first scraped level, sprayed with short-acting herbicide to destroy established weeds, and a pre-emergent solution to prevent germination of new weed seeds. Decomposed granite (DG) is layered on at least 5” deep to suffocate weeds. Tractor compacts DG with light watering between passes to solidify pathway.

Proof of Concept:
Monarch Breeding Site

June 2020

Summary: Less than one month after the first milkweed plants are planted in the habitat, evidence is documented of Monarch breeding! Adult Monarchs are flying around, mating, laying eggs on milkweed, and feeding on nectar plants. Eggs and caterpillars in different stages of maturity are seen, and chrysalis are found on the undersides of larger succulents and attached to grasses. Newly hatched Monarchs with wet wings are seen hanging from aloe and agave plants, drying them out and ready for their first flight.

Volunteer Events

September - November 2020

Summary: During three monthly volunteer events, community members and Camarillo Boy Scouts teams pulled weeds, planted more milkweed and winter-blooming nectar plants, and, with the help of the golf course maintenance team, installed drip irrigation - all in record heat.

Drip Irrigation Completion & Mulch

November 2020 - January 2021

Summary: The last of the drip irrigation is completed. To keep the cold-season grass seeds from invading the habitat, golf course maintenance workers help spread a thick layer of wood mulch around the plants to help control the weeds. Native milkweed seeds and wildflowers are seeded in small “wells” dispersed around the habitat, for next spring’s emergence.

Spring & Summer Habitat Activity

March - September 2021

Summary: Starting in March 2021, a big transformation happened in the habitat. Native and tropical milkweed was flourishing and blooming, as were the wildflower seeds that were planted in the Fall. Adult Monarchs were present every day, arriving as soon as the morning chill wore off and staying late into the warm and windy afternoons. They took shelter at night in a nearby area containing mature sycamore, oak, and California pepper trees. The wild fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace were blooming and provided nectar but are also host plants for the Swallowtail Butterfly. Fennel flowers that seeded themselves in the habitat were covered with bees, and an occasional swallowtail caterpillar could be seen eating the lacy leaves. Ladybugs, dragonflies, hummingbirds, other birds, and moths called this habitat their home, since this was now an insecticide and herbicide-free environmentally sensitive area.

The cycle of Monarch activity continued as photos and videos documented mating Monarchs, egg-laying, and caterpillars in different stages of maturity. Chrysalis were commonly found on the undersides of the succulent plants that were brought in for their drought-tolerant abilities, but to also provide protection from the winds that picked up every afternoon. Many instances of immature caterpillars were seen resting on or under the succulents, then would travel to the milkweed to feed during the day, and make their way back for the night.

During this time many people including representatives from the Resource Conservation District (RCD) of Ventura County, biologists, native plant experts, Monarch advocates, gardeners, golfers, and anyone interesting in seeing the Monarch life cycle in action visited. At the height of activity, a photographer/videographer was invited to the site and filmed the footage for documentation.

Plans are currently underway to expand this area as part of a grant applied for by the RCD, to contribute to the Monarch “network” being built across Ventura County. Sterling Hills golf course has also offered additional parcels of land to be developed as dedicated Monarch and Pollinator habitats, or preserved for native habitat restoration. A preliminary proposal of a combination habitat and community botanical garden is also being considered, with plans to encourage nesting birds with bird boxes and native seed sources. By engaging the golfers and the community, we can promote educational and research opportunities. By building a habitat on a protected space like a golf course, we have shown it can be an integral part of the recovery of the Monarch Butterfly.

All of this continues to show that if you build it, they will come! And stay. And flourish.