Monarch butterflies are being wiped out. These combat veterans are trying to save them.

The idea behind Guardian Grange is to not only provide a safety net for veterans, but to also teach them about conservation, sustainability and regenerative agriculture while leveraging skills honed over years in the military.

The organization currently has five core members and around 10 others who, Matzeldelaflor said, are ready to rotate among California-area projects as they come available.

One of the organization’s first major initiatives is to help construct a preserve for Western monarch butterflies, a pollinator species that has been pushed to the brink of extinction in recent years due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change.

Matzeldelaflor’s demeanor is calm and unhurried, but he’s clear-eyed in his mission to use nature and environmental projects to help people. He said he found that similar energy in Ole Schell, a 47-year-old filmmaker based in Bolinas, California, who came up with the idea to convert part of his 206-acre ranch into the so-called West Marin Monarch Sanctuary.

Schell said his drive to help resuscitate the dwindling population of Western monarchs came from memories of growing up on the ranch and encountering hordes of the charismatic orange-and-black winged insects.

“When I was a little boy, you could go up to a eucalyptus tree and if you shook a branch, thousands of monarch butterflies would fly off,” he said. “You could see hundreds of thousands of monarchs just filling the skies, but now you only see one or two a year. I wanted to do something to lure the butterflies back.”

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