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Monarch butterflies flourish, and firefighters gain ground on Big Sur wildfire

Erika Mahoney
A fiery orange sunset blanketed the Monterey Peninsula last Saturday. About 20 miles south of Del Monte Beach, the Colorado Fire was burning in Big Sur.

Plus, the story of a Carmel midwife who opened a birth center in West Africa, and a strike is averted in Santa Cruz.

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 1/28/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few national stories from NPR.

We were reminded this week that California no longer has a “fire season.” The Colorado Fire erupted near Palo Colorado Canyon a week ago. It threatened over 200 homes. Emergency officials shut down Highway 1 and ordered evacuations for 500 people.

Investigators determined the cause was an escaped pile burn. Unseasonably strong offshore winds fueled the flames. It took multiple helicopters, dozens of fire engines, and hundreds of firefighters to gain ground on the blaze.

KAZU News covered the wildfire all week. Beyond the updates, we zoomed out to examine the big picture of this winter wildfire amid a changing climate. As we write this Friday News Roundup, things are improving. The fire is over 70 percent contained, evacuation orders have been lifted and Highway 1 is back open.

Xerces Society
This graph shows the ups and downs of the monarch population from 1997 to 2021.

2021 was a fantastic year for monarch butterflies. The Xerces Society, which organizes monarch counts, released the final tally of the 2021 Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count this Tuesday. The total? 247,237. That’s an incredible increase from 2020 when less than 2,000 monarchs were counted along the West Coast. Around 14,000 monarchs returned to Pacific Grove’s sanctuary and more than 1,000 monarchs were counted at both Natural Bridges State Park and Moran Lake in Santa Cruz County.

Lisa Damerel
A cluster of monarchs on a eucalyptus tree branch at Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

Typically, most monarchs overwinter in California’s Central Coast. But data from this winter showed overwintering sites are shifting south. Santa Barbara County reported over 95,000 monarchs — more than any other county.

Monarchs still have a long way to go — their population has declined more than 95% since the 1980s. Still, conservationists say the uptick is a positive sign, and that everyone can do their part to help.

“Insects can be amazingly resilient if we give them a chance,” said Xerces Director Scott Hoffman Black.

Erika Mahoney
Jill Diallo, founder of the Senegal Health Institute, spoke with KAZU’s Erika Mahoney during her trip home to Carmel over the holidays.

This week we told the story of Carmel community member Jill Diallo, midwife and founder of the Senegal Health Institute. She describes her passion for working abroad as a “deep calling.” Her journey began 13 years ago, when she met a group of midwives who were headed to Senegal. They needed one more person and Diallo filled the spot.

“Within like two days, I was headed to Senegal to volunteer in a maternity clinic,” she recalled.

Diallo knew it was just the beginning of her life’s work. Today she runs a women’s health and family planning clinic and an adolescent girls empowerment program in Senegal. She recently opened a birth clinic in the rural village of Kafountine. Click here to listen to her story.

Ian Newman
SEIU Local 521
Santa Cruz County workers were preparing to strike on Tuesday until a late night agreement was reached with county management.

Santa Cruz County workers reached a deal with County management that averted a strike early this week. News of the tentative agreement came late Monday on the eve of the planned strike, after workers rejected the county’s “Last Best and Final Offer.” Among the negotiated items are a 9% wage increase for all county workers, pandemic hazard pay, and commitments to address the high rate of staff turnover and unfilled vacancies that have lingered throughout the pandemic.

“We strongly believe this agreement is an important step towards meeting the critical recovery needs of our community and workers,” said Veronica Velazquez, a social worker and the Santa Cruz County president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521, which represents the county workers.

The State of the Pandemic

That’s it for this week! You can sign up to receive the Friday News Roundup from KAZU, right to your inbox. Just visit to subscribe.

Until then,

The KAZU Team