They arrive in California each winter, an undulating ribbon of orange and black. There, migrating western monarch butterflies nestle among the state’s coastal forests, traveling from as far away as Idaho and Utah only to return home in the spring.

This year, though, the monarchs’ flight seems more perilous than ever. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit group that conducts a yearly census of the western monarch, said the population reached historic lows in 2018, an estimated 86 percent decline from the previous year.

Cheryl Schulz.In a 2017 study, scientists estimated that the monarch butterfly population in western North America had a 72 percent chance of becoming near extinct in 20 years if the monarch population trend was not reversed. One of the study’s researchers, Cheryl Schultz, an associate professor of biology at Washington State University Vancouver, said at the time that an estimated 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California in the 1980s.

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