Priorities for the PG Monarch Sanctuary

When the City of Pacific Grove acquired the Diveley property in 1992 the State of California funded a portion of the purchase.  In return for subsidizing the purchase of the property for the City, the State was granted a Conservation Easement on the property.  The easement stipulates several points about the use and governance of the property that are reviewed here.  The full text of the easement can be obtained at this link:

PG Sanctuary Conservation Easement

First and foremost the easement is entitled “Conservation Easement” and stipulates that “…the property has scenic, natural and aesthetic value in its present state as a natural area and refuge for overwintering monarch butterflies…”.  Furthermore, the easement stipulates that the City of Pacific Grove “…is willing to grant a conservation easement to STATE over the property, thereby restricting and limiting the use of the property…”.  

The easement goes further to stipulate that conservation and improvement of the monarch habitat is the highest priority for the property:

“WHEREAS, GRANTOR AND STATE recognize the scenic, natural and aesthetic value of the property in its present and restored and enhanced state and have the common desire to preserve, restore and enhance the natural character of the property and prevent its use or development for any purpose or in any manner which would conflict with the maintenance of the property as a refuge for overwintering monarch butterflies”

The easement establishes that the highest priority for the Sanctuary is a “refuge for overwintering monarch butterflies”.  In later years the priorities for the property have often been misunderstood or misinterpreted.  First, the Sanctuary was not intended to be a park for people to view the butterflies as its highest priority.  The Project Title stated in the easement is the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Ecological Reserve.  Nevertheless, people have not been restricted from visiting the Sanctuary.  A walking path path was constructed with ropes to discourage visitors from disturbing the monarchs and their habitat.   The Sanctuary was not established with the intention that it should be a tourist attraction with the goal of promoting visitation to the site.  And the goal of landscaping at the Sanctuary should be to preserve its natural character, not to make it more appealing to human visitors.

The easement goes on to stipulate several covenants, conditions, and restrictions.  This section details several prohibited uses for the property and examples of landscaping and construction that are prohibited.  A particularly important restriction is:

“There shall be no removal, destruction or cutting trees, shrubs or other vegetation except as may be necessary for (a) fire breaks, (b) the maintenance of existing foot trails or roads, (c) the prevention or treatment of disease or (d) other good husbandry practices approved by STATE.”  

In other words the City, as the party responsible for maintenance of the Sanctuary, must receive approval from the State (Department of Fish and Wildlife) to carry out the specified landscaping or construction activities at the Sanctuary.  There have been several incidents when this stipulation was violated perhaps most famously in 2009 when the monarch habitat was severely damaged by excessive tree trimming and bush removal.  In addition, several people have noted it appears there have been multiple incidents when pesticides and herbicides were used in the Sanctuary which not only destroys the habitat but poses a direct threat to the health of the monarch butterflies.  Over the last two decades repeated incidents of easement violations have led to significant destruction to monarch habitat in the Sanctuary that is obvious to long-term residents of Pacific Grove and several monarch biologists that are familiar with the site.  

The easement goes on to stipulate an enforcement clause:

“In the event a violation of these covenants, conditions or restrictions is found to exist, STATE may institute a suit to enjoin such violation, to require the restoration of the property to its prior condition or for damages.”

Despite several such violations over the past two decades this enforcement clause has not been invoked.  If violations of the easement continue the people of Pacific Grove may need to petition the State to exercise it’s “rights for restoration of the property to its prior condition or for damages”.  

The Sanctuary has been degraded from decades of inappropriate management.  The condition of the Sanctuary and other overwintering sites in California has reached a critical point as reported recently by the Xerces Society in their online post “The Vanishing Butterfly Groves of California“.  What can we, as citizens of the Monterey Peninsula, do to save the monarchs?  We need to make our voices heard to demand restoration and proper maintenance of the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary and other overwintering sites on the Monterey Peninsula.  Since the Monarch Sanctuary is owned by the City of Pacific Grove we need to write letters to members of the City Council and Beautification and Natural Resources Commission to urge them to stop harmful activities and adopt appropriate management practices.  And join Friends of the Monarchs to learn more about the monarch crisis and amplify your voice to urge the City to restore and responsibly manage the Monarch Sanctuary!