A Year in Monarchs & Milkweeds

What has makewayformonarchs.org accomplished in its first year as a grassroots trinational alliance of conservation biologists, environmental educators, farmers, gardeners, graphic artists and writers? As a group of individuals who share deep concerns about the recent declines in milkweeds, monarchs and other pollinators, the answer to this question can be summarized as follows:




1. We helped bring many constituencies together “got us into the White House” and on the radar of the three elected leaders of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, doing this in such a constructive manner that it resulted a trinational monarch recovery agreement and an Executive Memo from President Obama.

2. We became the first milkweed and monarch group that had farmers and gardeners from all three countries as advisors and commentators, and we talked at events where over 5,000 ranchers and farmers were participants.

3. We demonstrated that the ethical principles of collaborative conservation could bring farmers, the ag industry, government agencies, universities and non-profits to the table to work together toward on-ground solutions.

4. We engaged the faith-based communities in expressing their own ecumenical “caring for creation concerns” about monarch declines.

5. We have not only engaged citizen scientists and volunteer environmental educators, but gotten them to the table as equal partners with professionals.

6. Our field work and biogeographic analyses are dramatically revising the views regarding the importance of monarchs and milkweeds in the U.S./Mexico borderlands, including offering a new map of monarch breeding and migrations through the borderlands,

7. We brought together different monarch organizations which had previously quibbled with one another for a unified effort and shared vision about what needs to be done if monarch populations proposed for federal protection are to be recovered in time to keep them from being listed as threatened or endangered.

8. We engaged with, publicized and listened to concerns about monarchs from Mexicans and Canadians, rather than assuming that the U.S. alone should drive monarch recovery.

9. We posted over two hundred articles, blogs, new maps, photos and drawings of monarchs and milkweeds on our website, becoming one of the most widely sought-utilized sources of information on monarch conservation within a year of designing the website.

10. We gave people of many nations, cultures and ideologies hope in a time of crisis and despair through our inspiring graphics, blogs, prayers, poems and reports from the field.

Regarding the latter point, we particularly worked to get activists and scientists to abandon their despair and confrontational politics. We wished to do so in order to move toward what Aldo Leopold called cooperative conservation toward on-ground solutions, including native milkweed seed collection and propagation, milkweed and wildflower habitat restoration in farmscapes, farming practices that do least harm to nectar forages and pollinators, and citizen science engagement in migratory monarch monitoring in all three countries. We not only work collaboratively between various nations and cultures, we also welcomed dialogues and positive engagement with willing partners of various cultures, faiths, farming traditions, arts and sciences, industries and ideologies to make more room for milkweeds and monarchs on this continent.

We offer this first year summary of our activities not to pat ourselves on the back over a set of accomplishments but to indicate to our readers that we have been sincere in our desire to engage farmers and others from all walks of life—many of whom had previously been left out of public discussions– in positive, collaborative actions that make the world a better place for humans as well as for monarchs and the plants they require in order to survive and thrive.

January 2014

First uploading of our website after identifying what our unique role might be in the monarch dialogue, and after recruiting advisors, particularly farmers from six states and two Canadian provinces—to guide our collective work. Nabhan offered keynote presentations and outreach to farmers at the NOFA- New York and NOFA-New Hampshire annual conferences, at Middlebury and Sterling Colleges, at the University of Vermont. After World Wildlife Fund/Mexico released unprecedented low numbers for overwintering monarchs, we assisted Betty and Homero Aridjis, Lincoln Brower and Ernest Williams with obtaining 450 signatures for a letter to be delivered to the “Tres Amigos” at their NAFTA summit in Toluca, Mexico. Time spent with Journey North director Elizabeth Howard to better understand current citizen science and social media outreach.

Picture by: Gary Nabhan


February 2014

The letter and its 450 signatures delivered by Homero Aridjis by Mexican diplomatic pouch is used as a leverage for the Mexican President to pressure President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to sign a monarch recovery agreement in Toluca, as the only major accomplishment of their summit. Serving as the U.S. portal for further information following the New York Times story and the Toluca signing, Ina Warren and Tim Tracy help our website quickly become a key source of updates on progress toward monarch recovery, with over 1.7 million visits that month. Nabhan continued media outreach through a Sunday, February 23rd op-ed in the L.A. Times, and an NPR feature on Living On Earth. He also spoke at two colleges in Pennsylvania. Makewayformonarchs.org received an unsolicited request from key organizations in the agrichemical industry requesting dialogue so that “they might become part of the solutions rather than continuing to be perceived as part of the problems facing monarchs.”

March 2014

First meetings with the USDA/ARS, the ag industry, universities and non-profits to discuss cooperative action. Nabhan presented webinar for six national faith-based groups on monarchs and milkweeds offered by the Franciscan Action Network. Nabhan and Warren offer presentations and outreach to gardeners and landscape architects at Brookside Botanic Gardens during their Climate Change seminar and at University of Maryland. They also meet with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oyamel Restaurant staff and visit the Rachel Carson home in Maryland. Nabhan lectures on monarch recovery at the University of Arizona and hosts Gail Marie Morris of Southwest Monarch Study to give a workshop on monarch monitoring at the Patagonia Public Library in Arizona. Nabhan also offers two lectures on monarchs at Webster University in St. Louis. Warren provides monarch updates for Xerces’ Pollinator Workshop registrants at University of NC Asheville and staffs display for Extension Master Gardeners Spring Conference at Brevard NC library.

April 2014

Warren and Nabhan organize a national Day of Contemplation and Action for monarchs and other imperiled pollinators on the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s death. Leading a collaboration with the Xerces Society and many other individuals and organizations, we release a letter from 45 scientists, farmers and educators to President Obama, the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Interior recommending policies and practices to fast-track monarch recovery. Within a few days of our letter being received, monarch issues are added to the agenda of the White House Pollinator Summit scheduled for May. Make Way for Monarchs receives its first grant with the University of Arizona from the Compton Foundation to assist with Paul Mirocha’s poster and May’s Make Way for Monarchs symposium in Chicago. Warren introduces Make Way for Monarchs to the USFS and public near Asheville NC program and provides local native milkweed seed packets to 100+ participants. Warren tours the White House Vegetable and Pollinator Gardens in late April and leads informal discussions on monarchs during their conservation tours and at Smithsonian Institution’s IMAX film, Flight of the Butterflies. Warren also staffs an all-day Make Way for Monarchs pavilion for Earth Day Festival at Brevard College NC where she lectured about the White House Pollinator Garden plant list with attendees. Warren leads a meditative community labyrinth walk on April 14 for Day of Action and Contemplation for monarchs and the health of all pollinators.

Picture by: Paul Mirocha
Designed by artist Paul Mirocha

May 2014

Nabhan, Chip Taylor and Scott Black were among the handful of scientists within the 60 leaders invited to the White House Pollinator Summit hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The three of them also visited the national headquarters of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Later in the month, Nabhan joined scientists and resource managers from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico at the Trilateral Meeting on Wildlife and Ecosystems in Queretaro, Mexico. Nabhan also spoke on food chain restoration for monarchs in the Ilawheee Lecture Series at Portland State University.

June 2014

Nabhan and Warren helped Kay Havens to organize the Make Way for Monarchs symposium of 200 participants at Chicago Botanic Gardens to help launch National Pollinator Month. Scott Black gives a presentation there for World Environment Day. Nabhan also keynotes the annual Pollinator Dinner at the St. Louis Zoo and gives talks organized by Carol Davit and Peter Raven at Whole Foods and at Missouri Botanical Garden. The President releases a sixteen-page Executive Memo mandating actions by a dozen federal agencies to better protect pollinators, including monarchs.

July 2014

Advisor Laura Lopez-Hoffman and USGS scientist Darius Semmens are provided federal support though the USGS Powell Center to begin a quantitative monarch recovery plan initiative in response to the Presidential Memo. The second meeting with the ag industry of universities, farmers, federal agencies and non-profits occurs in Ames, Iowa, with Nabhan as well as several advisors in attendance. Laura Jackson and Matt Leibman host tours of prairie filter strips in Iowa corn fields and milkweeds in roadside prairie plantings, as well as a tour of the Tallgrass Prairie Center. Warren presents Make Way for Monarchs talks and local milkweed seed for Way Station planting for WNC Regional Girl Scout Council during Dar Williams/Xerces Society pollinator concert.

August 2014

Nabhan stays in the field to re-do Mark Fishbein and Larry Venable’s 1993 ecological survey to floral visitors of milkweeds in the Canelo Hills of Arizona, and to help Gail Morris tag monarchs on the border. He establishes two Monarch Way Stations in Patagonia, Arizona, and assists the Borderlands Earth Care Youth Corps Institute with a pollinator garden at Patagonia High School. Nabhan, Steve Buckley of NPS and Heather Dial of NRCS complete the first draft of a technical note describing all milkweeds in the Southwest. Warren offers monarch conservation keynote for Appalachian Trail Conference phenology workshop in western NC as part of alumni/educator meeting of Trails to Every Classroom program.

September 2014

Warren offers keynote lectures on Bring Back the Monarchs at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts and at the US Forest Service Cradle of Forestry Visitor Center in North Carolina. Dr. Lincoln Brower presents at Emory and Henry College in Virginia. Warren creates a month-long public monarch display featuring Make Way posters and educational materials in a downtown community radio station window.

Designed by artist Paul Mirocha
Designed by artist Paul Mirocha

October 2014

Ina Warren participates on behalf of Make Way for Monarchs at the Monarch Joint Venture meetings in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Nabhan attends the first Powell Center meeting of thirty scientists in Fort Collins, Colorado charged with the quantitative recovery plan for monarch populations. He gives two lectures on monarchs at Colorado State University and a local bookstore while in Fort Collins. Nabhan takes on collaborative conservation of monarchs and other pollinators at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka Kansas, which attracts over 10,000 famers and gardeners. He is interviewed by Edible Kansas City magazine about collaborative conservation. Warren presents Make Way for Monarchs program for Community Garden Conference of NC; during the fall season, gathers five species of local milkweed seed from four-county area in WNC for public distribution.

November 2014

Nabhan participates in a half-day symposium on the roles of science, industry and government in recovering monarchs at the Entomological Society of America meetings in Portland Oregon, presenting data from the Canelo Hills fieldwork. He also speaks on monarch food chain restoration at Western Washington State University in Bellingham. Make Way for Monarchs along with G.A.R.D.E.N. Inc and Borderlands Restoration receives a grant from the CECC to collect milkweed seeds in the Big Bend area. Nabhan and Caleb Weaver begin fieldwork in Big Bend on the Texas border. Warren completes Make Way for Monarchs project with 90 Brevard College Conservation Biology class/lab students using both lectures and hands-on work project to create four Monarch Way Stations on the USFS Pisgah Ranger District during the school year.

December 2014

Nabhan completes initial collections of milkweed seeds stated by Weaver, resulting in six new accessions of four species. He also checks historic monarch roosts in Ensenada, Baja California and finds they have been abandoned for several years in part due to warm winters. The southernmost roosts in California are also visited, and their numbers are lower than average. Warren develops a well-received educational “Pollinator Giving Tree” program planned in advance of announcement of President’s Pollinator Strategy plan. Public libraries and conferences feature displays of community-made trees as educational outreach.

January 2015

Nabhan and others receive Park Service support to train Mexican protected area managers in border states on milkweed propagation and monarch monitoring. Nabhan discusses collaborative conservation in keynotes at EcoFarm in California and the Western Cowboy Poetry Gathering, where together, over 3000 farmers and ranchers were in attendance and others were reached by radio and print interview. Warren meets with three US Fish and Wildlife Service staffers from Asheville NC Area Office to discuss monarch and milkweed restoration efforts in WNC as well as a listening session regarding the ESA listing package.


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