Protecting the Monarch Through Public Education


Video by The Corps Network, featuring fun facts about monarchs collected from Outreach & Education Corpsmembers, both past and present.
 

Internship program through Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa gives young science professionals a chance to interact with the public and help the monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies are in decline. A 2018 population report, which counts monarchs overwintering in Mexico, showed a 14.77 percent decrease from the previous year. Much of this can be attributed to habitat loss, pesticide application, and other human activities. One important way to stem this loss is through providing public education and good information. The Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) is designed to do just that.

Housed at the University of Minnesota, the MJV is an information clearinghouse on monarch conservation. Representing a collective of 80 partners across the United States, ranging from local nature centers to federal agencies, the MJV seeks to align conservation efforts and ensure citizen scientists and professionals alike have access to the best data and practices.

However, to supplement the outreach efforts of their eight-person staff, the MJV partnered with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI), a program that engages young adults in hands-on environmental service. With funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and support from The Corps Network, the MJV and CCMI created the year-long Outreach and Education Corpsmember position in 2015. This program gives young professionals the opportunity to immerse themselves in conservation science and make an impact on the public.

Why is monarch conservation important? We asked Cora Lund Preston, the first Outreach and Education Corpsmember.

“Monarchs are an ambassador for all other pollinators,” she said. “Their beauty, incredible migration and dramatic decline have become a rallying cry for pollinator conservation across North America. Creating habitat for monarchs also benefits honeybees, native bees, other pollinators, and even other wildlife.”

One responsibility for the Outreach and Education Corpsmember is to present about monarchs at fairs, conferences, school events, and other gatherings. Cora, who now works as the MJV Communications Specialist, remembers nervously rehearsing her lines on the hour-long drive to her first presentation. Though she had conservation experience, monarchs were a completely new topic for her. As it turned out, Cora had nothing to worry about. The group was eager to learn about the monarch lifecycle and how to plant milkweed and nectar flowers.

Having a background in insect biology is certainly not a requirement for the Corpsmember position. Aislyn Keyes, the current Corpsmember, recently received her degree in marine biology.

“It’s so important to try things that are outside of your immediate field,” said Aislyn. “Resource management can be a hard field in which to find secure positions, especially if you only look at specific jobs. Each type of job offers unique skillsets that complement each other. The more well-rounded you are, the better!”

Another responsibility for the Outreach and Education Corpsmember is to create and distribute resources. During her time with the MJV, Cora led the creation of Parks For Monarchs, a guide for land managers. Shelby Kilibarda, the Corpsmember for the 2016 – 2017 season, who now works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, developed the Monarch Highway Map, which depicts how monarchs migrate to Mexico along the I-35 corridor. Aislyn created a Monarch Conservation Efforts Map that shows conservation activities happening across the continent.

However, it’s those interactions with the public that are incredibly important.

“One particularly memorable experience for me was at the Minneapolis Monarch Festival in September,” said Aislyn. “I was taking a group of families to release a tagged monarch. I asked all the kids to form a circle and put their hands in. The parents stood around watching as I placed the monarch in their children’s hands. The monarch sat for a brief moment and everyone admired it in silence. When it took off, [everyone’s] eyes lit up in excitement. It was so special to see the impact such a small organism can have on people.”


Facts about Monarchs shared by Monarch Joint Venture Outreach and Education Corpsmembers:

Did you know?

  • Monarchs grow 2,000 times their size in the 10-15 days they spend as caterpillars. That’s like a human baby growing to the size of an elephant in two weeks.
  • The chrysalis doesn’t form around monarch caterpillars. Instead, the caterpillar’s exoskeleton splits down its back and the chrysalis is revealed underneath.
  • Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed (there are over 100 species of milkweed in the United States), but adult monarchs eat nectar from a wide variety of flowers.
  • In the late summer and fall, adult monarchs that live east of the Rocky Mountains will migrate up to 2,000 miles forested mountaintops in Central Mexico, where they have never been before. Monarchs that live west of the Rockies, however, migrate to groves of trees along the Pacific Coast in California.