#15: Tora Rocha and Terry Smith – The Pollinator Posse on Monarchs, Their Amazing Lifecycle, and Their Frightening Decline in the West – Part 1

#15: Tora Rocha and Terry Smith – The Pollinator Posse on Monarchs, their Amazing Lifecycle, and Their Frightening Decline in the West – Part 1 Nature's Archive


Today’s guests are Tora Rocha and Terry Smith, founders of the Oakland, California based Pollinator Posse. The Pollinator Posse creates pollinator-friendly landscaping and fosters appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education and direct action. They engage with municipalities, land owners, golf courses, garden groups, and the general public to help people become better stewards of the land.

Terry and Tora make a wonderful team, and have made a huge impact in northern California on a number of fronts. So much so that Tora was recently awarded the Jefferson Award.

Tora Rocha

Our conversation was wide ranging – and as a result I decided to divide it into two episodes! Today we discuss the origin of the Pollinator Posse and the good fortune that brought Tora and Terry together. We discuss a few of the Posse’s current areas of focus and how they engage the public, including their creative Tees for Bees program that raises awareness about the importance of sustainable landscape practices at golf courses.

Terry Smith

Much of today’s episode focuses on the dire situation with the western population of the Monarch butterfly. Western monarchs have distinct behaviors from those seen in the eastern United States, and their population has crashed to frightening lows, well below what is thought to be sustainable. This crash has corresponded with surprising behavioral changes that the Posse is working to better document, along with their conservation partners. 

We discuss the Monarch’s life cycle including their mind-blowing metamorphosis, what distinguishes the western population from the eastern population (east of the Rocky Mountains), how populations are even measured in the first place, why they migrate, and the odd behavioral changes suddenly observed in 2020. We also discuss what individuals and land owners can do to help, such as managing the divisive Tropical Milkweed

Next week’s part two continues the discussion of the dramatic decline of insects in general, and what homeowners and landowners can do to create better habitat. We discuss the terrible impact of systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids, and how to avoid purchasing plants that are pre-treated with these long lasting pesticides. 

We also discuss how maintaining a healthy habitat garden is actually less work than maintaining a lawn and traditional garden, and the importance of leaving some “messy” areas – these areas are important for the lifecycle of insects in many ways.

You can find out more at pollinatorposse.org or their Facebook group.

People and Organizations

Art Shapiro – University of California Davis Professor with longest continuously monitored study sites. See Art’s work here. This Bay Nature article discusses Shapiro’s work and the insect apocalypse.

Journey North – a 25 year citizen science program tracking migrations, now associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.

Karen Overhauser – Professor and Director of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Her study about Monarch diapause triggers was mentioned in Part 1.

Monarch Joint Venture – a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to protect the monarch migration across the United States.

Plant Lists – The Pollinator Posse has some plant lists to help California gardeners with bees and pollinators

Western Monarch Advocates – an overarching entity that connects groups and individuals who share a common goal of saving the western Monarchs.

Xerces Society – one of the largest invertebrate conservation groups. They have many resources about monarchs and habitat creation and habitat gardening.

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

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