Monarch Watch Blog

The Future of Monarch Watch

Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 5:15 pm by Chip Taylor
Filed under General | 14 Comments »

The year 2009 marks the eighteenth year of Monarch Watch. We started the program in the fall of 1992 and, given the economic conditions, I’m wondering if we will still be around next year at this time. Keeping Monarch Watch going from year to year has always been a concern yet somehow we have managed. In fact, we are one of the longest surviving educational outreach programs in existence. Most such programs have initial funding from grants, corporate benefactors, and contributions but only keep going for a year or two after the initial funding runs out. I don’t know the half-life of outreach programs that are similar to Monarch Watch, but I’d guess that it’s roughly 5-6 years. If this is the case, we have done relatively well. But, can we keep it going?

At a recent meeting, the discussion turned to the funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the statement was made that most NGOs are anticipating declines in revenues of 20-40% in the next year. I’ve heard similar concerns on NPR and on local radio stations as well. Monarch Watch might be able to survive a 20% drop in revenue but not 40% or even 30%. So, what is the prospect for the future? We’ve been looking at the books and it doesn’t look good. Last year our expenses exceeded our income by $18,000 – clearly, we need to increase our income and it’s really an open question as to whether we can do so.

Our 2008 income and expense breakdown is as follows:

Monarch Watch Income and Expenses

The tagging program doesn’t pay for itself and we can’t cover all the costs associated with buying tags in Mexico, so I have been paying for most of the tags from personal funds.


Why We Need to Survive

For the last 14 years I have been advocating the creation of a cohesive plan to conserve the monarch migration, a plan that involves all three countries that host the eastern monarch population. I won’t go into the history of this advocacy, and I’m not sure it ever had any impact, but the reality is that such a plan has been developed and we now have the “North American Monarch Conservation Plan”. This is an exciting development and we want to be in a position to support this plan in the coming years. The plan was developed through an extensive set of meetings and communications involving representatives of Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

The first positive steps toward international cooperation to conserve monarchs occurred at meetings of the Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management. These meetings, aided by the hard work of Donita Cotter and others, led to The Trilateral Monarch Butterfly Sister Protected Area (SPA) Network, a partnership of wildlife refuges and national parks in the United States and Canada, and natural protected areas in Mexico. Subsequent meetings involved monarch scientific and conservation experts and other stakeholders who met in Mission, Texas in 2006 (supported by the U.S. Forest Service) and in June 2007 in Morelia, Mexico (supported by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America (CEC)). Karen Oberhauser (Monarchs in the Classroom/Monarch Lab) was the lead organizer and writer of the plan and her hard work, as well as that of Donita Cotter (USFWS) and a multitude of contributors, resulted in a plan that WILL serve as the basis for an upcoming focus on the protection, enhancement, and restoration of monarch habitats in the United States.

Announcements about developments related to this plan and monarch conservation will be forthcoming in a few months. Suffice it to say that a goal is to unite all parties interested in monarch conservation. To contribute to this encouraging development in coming years, we need to keep Monarch Watch going and to do so we will need help.


How You Can Help Monarch Watch and Monarchs

If you would like to help us continue our work on monarch conservation, here are some suggestions:

Make a single or recurring donation online or by mail – contributions are 100% tax-deductible and many employers will match your gift.

Register your monarch habitat with us as a Monarch Waystation, if you haven’t already done so.

• Encourage others to create habitats and register them as Monarch Waystations.

• Visit the Monarch Watch Shop to purchase educational and promotional products.

• Attend our Spring Open House and Plant Fundraiser on 9 May 2009.

• Organize fundraisers on behalf of Monarch Watch.

• Help us find a corporate sponsor.


Monarch Watch Mission and Vision Statements

We have always described Monarch Watch as an outreach program that deals with education, research, and conservation of monarchs but we are much more. We truly have a mission and vision but we have never made these views clear to the public and our participants.

Mission Statement: Monarch Watch strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. We engage in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration. We also promote protection of monarch habitats throughout North America.

Vision Statement: In recognition of the rapid loss of habitats and resources needed by monarch butterflies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, our vision is the preservation of the monarch migration will require stewardship by the governments and private citizens of all three countries. We all must work together to create, conserve, and protect monarch habitats. Sustaining monarch habitats will have the effect of protecting vital pollinators and other wildlife.


What We Do at Monarch Watch
Annual and Ongoing Activities

Listed below is a summary of the major things we do at Monarch Watch – Jim, Ann, and I wear many hats around here and it would be impossible to list EVERYTHING we do.

• Manage the monarch butterfly tagging program
• Create educational materials based on monarchs
• Manage the Monarch Watch website
• Manage the Dplex-L email discussion list
• Manage the Monarch Watch Forums
• Provide periodic updates on monarchs via our Blog
• Distribute caterpillars and educational materials to schools
• Give general and professional talks on monarch biology (~12/yr)
• Videochat with classrooms (Q&A sessions with students) via iChat or Skype
• Respond to thousands of emails and dozens of press inquires
• Advise teachers and students on classroom and independent projects
• Summarize and publish tagging data
• Track monarch population trends and develop models to predict population size
• Host Spring and Fall Open House events for the public (400 to 1000 attendees)
• Conduct a public tagging event at Baker/Haskell Wetlands (150 to 550 participants)
• Promote Monarch Waystations to engage the public in monarch conservation
• Give tours to school groups, garden clubs, and many individuals that visit us
• Serve as a resource for numerous documentaries on monarchs


Monarch Watch Projects and Activities for 2009

Seek funds to analyze the tagging data

The tagging database is enormous, with more than one million records of tagged monarchs and close to 13,000 recoveries. We need to analyze these data and that will require funds to validate and standardize the entries. This is no small task and will require hundreds of hours. Although most of the questions we want to ask of the data, such as recovery rates for each section of the country, are clear, we anticipate that new questions will arise as answers to the first questions become apparent. The biggest challenge will be to test two major hypotheses regarding the migration, namely that it is driven by weather or is coincident with celestial changes. Gathering the weather records for the United States for each migration over the last 17 years will also take lots of hours. We anticipate that this project will cost 40-50,000 dollars.

Blog – more frequent entries

We got off to a great start with the Blog in early 2008 but got away from this task as the season progressed. We are going to post entries more frequently in 2009. You can expect to read much more about monarch conservation this year – things will be happening.

Reorganize the website

We have so much on our website that I’ve forgotten much of it. But, more importantly, I can’t find ancient texts when I do remember them. So, we have to find a student or intern who can take the time to go through old texts and organize them so that the information is more accessible to all.

Continue research on monarch population dynamics

We are making progress on an analysis of the relationship of climate to the numbers of monarchs reported at the overwintering sites and other locations. Stay tuned – the results will surprise you.

Promote phenology project more effectively

Last year we encouraged you to start tracking the phenology of the milkweeds in your gardens or familiar monarch habitats. For various reasons this project got off to a slow start. We are going to try again this year so watch the Blog for more information.

Promote Monarch Waystations with the goal of registering more than 1,000 new Waystations in 2009

The Monarch Waystation message requires constant promotion. We need to engage more gardeners, schools, nature centers, botanical gardens, property owners, municipalities, businesses, homeowners associations, zoos, and others to create Monarch Waystations. Given that we are losing 6,000 acres per day due to development, monarchs need all the help they can get. Please help us get this message to others.

Develop and implement a closed breeding system to control disease in monarch cultures

This project has been a long term goal; we are not there yet but we are getting closer.

Continue the tagging program for the 18th year

Tags may now be ordered via the Monarch Watch Shop for distribution in July/August – in plenty of time for the migration in your area.

Assist with and promote the North American Monarch Conservation Plan

We will have a lot more to say about this plan soon.

Thank You For Your Continued Support!

  1. 14 Responses to “The Future of Monarch Watch”

  2. By Jim Ragsdale on Jan 30, 2009

    One way to raise funds might work something like this. I’ve been looking for years for an inscribed publication by Lincoln Brower. Is it possible Lincoln, Chip and that crazy Texan with alligator skin who chases Monarachs around Mexico could provide a trillogy of signatures on a single publication of their choice. I would pay good money for that.

  3. By Kate Harries on Jan 31, 2009

    Hi, I run a small nursery operation from my home. I try to make the selection habitat-oriented. It would be very useful to have a brochure I could give people on the monarch butterfly and its needs – it could also be used to promote your organizatin and raise funds.

  4. By Keith on Jan 31, 2009

    I am trying to get more people to purchase and set up Monarch way stations so i’m trying to spread the word.

    I would seriously make a Myspace account for Monarch Watch, it’s free and you can make Blogs and on there and word spreads quickly on Myspace, i’m sure people who didn’t know about you and like insects/monarchs will be like “wow, monarch watch is cool lets tag some butterflies or set up way stations’.

    You can even make Youtube videos showing what you do like tagging,rearing, etc..

    Good Luck your doing a good thing!

  5. By Melissa Martin on Feb 3, 2009

    Texas Discovery Gardens is a 7.5 acre botanical garden located in Fair Park, Dallas, just SE of the downtown area. We have been tagging Monarchs during the State Fair as we are on the Fair grounds. We heavily promote the whole Monarch migration/milkweed story to thousands of people. We have an annual Butterfly Plant sale the third weekend in May and on Sept. 12 this year we open the Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium. We would love to promote Monarch Watch even more. Could we display brochures, buy your merchandise at wholesale to sell in our gift shop, or have something at our annual Butterfly Plant Sale to promote your program?

    Another suggestion I have is to join an organization called Earth Share. They raise funds for environmental organization through workplace giving campaigns. We joined the Texas group but I am sure they have one for your area too.

    Please contact me so we can look at ways to partner. I would hate you to have to stop your program for any length of time.

    Melissa Martin

  6. By Dwayne Taylor on Mar 6, 2009

    I personally think that us taggers would be more than happy to pay more for the tags. The conservation effort is worth a great deal to all of us participants. Increase the tag price. I’ll be buying several hundred this year myself!

  7. By MJ Fieser on Apr 7, 2009

    I’m sure that folks who are doing the tagging would not mind at all if you increased the price of the tags. I work in a nature center in southeast Missouri and we’ll be glad to provide additional information about Monarch Watch to our visitors. Last fall, we ran a day on Monarchs and tagging that was well attended.

  8. By Christine Winter on Apr 22, 2009

    I work at a school here in Ontario and we are in a super position at the present time to work on a Monarch Waystation 😉 We are very fortunate to have a large parcel of land behind our school that we are working on developing into a community nature space (trails, education centers, gardens, etc.). As I’ve been involved with the Monarch butterfly for over 40 years now, collecting and hatching them for children all over Ontario, I have proposed to my principal that my class (and subsequent Grade 4 classes) start work on planning for a Monarch Waystation.
    I would be very sad to see your site and all of your generous and good work fall due to economic factors, so I hope this will be of some help.

  9. By Judy Molnar on Jun 29, 2009

    Some suggested fundraising items:
    1) How about partnering with a publisher [like Dover Publications] and the University of Toronto to get Fred Urquhart’s original book on monarchs republished, then sell it exclusively through the shop? I would pay good money for that, and other out-of-print monarch related books.
    2)Raise the price of tags.
    3)Ask or require folks to throw in some cash for every 10 monarchs they tag to defray the costs of recording all the data.
    4)Sell a Monarch WATCH, a time piece with your logo on the face! You can get fancy with a caterpillar on the minute hand, a pupa on the hour hand. Or the “gulliver” logo on the face & a tiny butterfly on the hour hand. Or keep it simple with just the logo on the face, that would be fine by itself, I’d buy one just for the PUN itself.
    5) Raffle off a trip to go with you to the overwintering sites in Mexico to the highest contribution or online purchase in a particular period of time.
    6) Partner with the nearest Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution [there is one in Emporia KS]. Part of the accreditation process is to dedicate your institution to helping raise funds for conservation projects outside of your own 4 walls. Many zoos have gardens and several have insect-related exhibits, they could help support your mission. My employer just got AZA accredited and I’m pushing for us to promote you here.
    7) Partner with Disney. They are contributing a lot of money to the research on White Nose Syndrome in bats & I suspect monarch conservation would be something magical they could get on board with, especially since they have facilities in both California and Florida.
    I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
    Bless you all for your hard work.

  10. By Barbara Armentano on Jul 7, 2009

    Where are the monarchs this year? I heard this Spring that they are going to be very scarce. My milkweed is not doing well and neither are my butterfly bushes. Is this a sign that we won’t see any monarchs?

  11. By Angeles Mendoza on Jan 29, 2010

    I believe your work is crucial for the conservation of the monarch butterfly but also of other species. It would be great to expand it to Mexico and Canada – I do not know if you are already doing that. I’d like to help find support for Monarch Watch.


  12. By James Bowman on Apr 9, 2010

    To those asking for “brochures” describing the Monarch – there is more than enough information available n the web to create your own – I have.
    For those asking where the Monarchs are this year – they are on thier way. I’m in Corpus Christi Tx Waystation # 03592. I currently have (counted last night 4/8/10) 25 catipillars eating up my milkweed plants. They should be about ready to chrysalize in about two or three days.
    This is so extremely easy to accomplish I’m stymied as to why more people are not involved.

  13. By Frank Apsey on Sep 9, 2010

    I just began my first (pilot) year at a State Park in the area. I gave three presentations on migration, rearing, and tagging monarchs. I had the children help tag and then release the butterflies off their fingertips. These monarchs were raised in the condo tent after collecting them at the park. More than 60 people participated. As for Barb that mentioned where the monarchs were, they are on the way! I counted over 500 in an hour migrating along the Lake Huron shoreline in Michigan.

  14. By larry on Oct 30, 2010

    When I was a child I had the opportunity to see a “flock” on Monarch’s getting ready to migrate. I is an amazing picture to see hundreds of Monarchs. Thanks for your work to preserve them.

  15. By DICK ARNOLD on Nov 17, 2010


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