Trailblazer: Sarina Jepsen

This Portland, Oregon, activist is standing up for invertebrates.

sarina jepsen
Celeste Noche

Pollination? Check. Pest control? They’re on it. Dung burial? Yep, even that. Though often overlooked, those tiny, spineless creatures known as invertebrates “form the fabric of our ecosystem,” says Sarina Jepsen. As the endangered species program director at the Xerces Society, which is named after the now-extinct blue butterfly, Jepsen fights for the many western invertebrate species currently under threat.

Sarina Jepsen details ways we call can help as our guest on Alta Live.


Portland-based Jepsen and her colleagues fill in knowledge gaps to determine which species are most at risk. They’re working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to protect freshwater mussels in the Pacific Northwest and with Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to track bumblebees. “About a quarter of bumblebee species in North America face extinction risk,” Jepsen says. The migratory western monarch butterfly, which overwinters along the California coast, is also faring poorly: its population has decreased by 99.9 percent since the 1980s, owing to climate change and human development, and it still lacks government protection.

This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Alta Journal.

Growing up in rural Alpine, Oregon, Jepsen fell in love with pollinators as a teenager. After she found a feral honeybee hive in her parents’ shed, she built a makeshift smoker out of old cans and duct tape to extract the honey. She earned a degree in entomology and in 2006 started at Xerces, where she began advocating for the rusty patched bumblebee. In 2017, it became the first bee in the continental United States to receive protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“It takes so much effort to even make a small change,” Jepsen says. The Xerces Society crowdsources volunteers to help with daunting projects—like the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, a website where anyone can upload photographs and report sightings of the butterflies to determine “priority restoration zones” along coastal and western California. Planting native milkweed in these locations helps replenish the monarch caterpillar’s only food source.

“We’ve documented that 60 overwintering sites have been destroyed,” Jepsen says. “You can directly help monarch butterflies and see the results of your actions.”•

Jessica Klein is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Guardian.
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