'Alta Live' Recap: Talking Butterflies and Bumblebees with Conservationist Sarina Jepsen

This buzzworthy episode includes suggestions and tips for protecting the West’s most vulnerable invertebrates.

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Alta Journal Trailblazer Sarina Jepsen has dedicated her career to protecting an unsung hero: invertebrates. These insects and small animals do everything from pollination to pest control to water filtration. But they often go unrecognized, and many are on the brink of extinction. After being featured in the magazine’s Trailblazer series, Jepsen joined Alta contributor Jessica Klein for this week’s Alta Live. The pair discussed ways viewers can participate in the conservation of invertebrates, including the rapidly disappearing monarch butterfly.

Jepsen found her passion for invertebrates as a teenager when she discovered a feral honeybee hive in her parent’s shed. She went on to study entomology before landing at the Xerces Society, where she leads the endangered species program.

Much of the Alta Live conversation with Jepsen centered on a species well-known in California: the western monarch butterfly. “The entire population is in trouble, but the monarch butterflies of the western U.S. have undergone a particularly dramatic decline,” Jepsen said. To track butterfly migration in California, Jepsen and her team created the annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, which tasks volunteers with monitoring the species’ populations along the coast. “We’re capturing a census of the entire western population,” Jepsen said. The similar Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, which tracks monarchs and milkweed, the sole food source of juvenile monarch larvae, has compiled over 50,000 crowdsourced observations.

Butterflies aren’t the only invertebrates Jepsen and her team are focused on protecting. The Xerces Society is celebrating the very recent recognition of the Franklin’s bumblebee as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Its classification has been a long time coming; Jepsen first submitted a petition to protect the bee in 2010. It’s the first bumblebee species in the West to receive this designation.

Organizations like the Xerces Society rely on the public to help them gather information and sight invertebrates. Amateur conservationists can participate in the Xerces Society’s crowdsourcing campaigns to monitor butterflies, bees, and mussels. “If you are in the western U.S., contribute observations of monarch butterflies at any life stage,” Jepsen said. She also encouraged viewers to create butterfly gardens, grow native nectar flowers, and plant native milkweed in appropriate locations. Any one of us, emphasized Jepsen, can find small yet impactful ways to participate—maybe even creating a little “butterfly effect” of our own.•

Alta Live is a weekly event series produced by Alta’s digital editor, Beth Spotswood. Alta invites innovators, academics, change makers, and artists to share their work with our readers in these free virtual events. Join us next Wednesday and discover the West with Alta Live: Secret California with Paul Saffo and Will Hearst.

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