Calhoun Ranch

Cow eyes narrow-leaf milkweed on Calhoun Ranch in Livermore. (Photo - Nancy Mueller)

The Calhoun family ranch has been part of Livermore since the 19th Century.

Good stewardship of the land has been the family’s goal for all that time. That’s why a chance discovery of endangered monarch butterflies on the ranch a few years ago motivated the Calhoun sisters — Nancy Calhoun Mueller, Susie Calhoun and Merry Calhoun — to join a county project to establish a butterfly preserve at the ranch.

“We all feel it is our responsibility to be stewards of the land we inherited from our parents and grandparents who came to this valley in the 1880s,” Calhoun Muller said. “Having grown up on the property, we currently don’t see the abundance of the many species we saw in our youth.”

“A couple of years ago we found some milkweed, a monarch butterfly and monarch eggs” on the ranch on Mines Road, Merry Calhoun recalled.

The discovery led to their contacting the Alameda County Resource Conservation District (ACRCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service about developing monarch preservation methods on their land. This December, a total of 1,600 drought-tolerant, native nectar-producing plants including milkweed were planted at the ranch.

“Working with ranchers to restore milkweed on rangelands in California is really important. There is the potential to make a big impact if more ranchers follow the Calhoun sisters lead,” said Hillary Sardinas, an ACRCD biologist.

By planting milkweed, Susie Calhoun said, “We’re just doing our part. The monarchs need everyone to do their share in order to save this species.”

Western monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 99% since the 1980s. Between the yearly 2017 and 2018 western monarch butterfly count, the numbers of those remaining decreased by 86%.

“Due to habitat loss, climate change and the increased use of herbicides, milkweed, the monarch caterpillars only food has become less available,” Kansas University entomologist Chip Taylor said.

In the fall, monarchs travel from the northern U.S. and Canada to winter locations in California and Mexico.

“Milkweed, the monarch host plant, can be perceived by landowners as being toxic to cattle. We are working to change that perception and demonstrate that cows and milkweed can co-exist,” Nancy Calhoun Mueller said. “Ranchers can be excellent land stewards and really make a difference for the endangered butterfly.”