Eighteen months after the Tres Amigos (Mexican, U.S., and Canadian leaders) agreed to collaborate one monarch butterfly recovery, we can at least see this vision reaching across borders to take hold at the grass roots level. Thanks to technical and financial support from many agencies, universities and non-profits, August 2015 was the season for hands-on training events in the U.S./Mexico border states where field practitioners learned to monitor the health and distribution of migratory monarch populations, but were also given refined tools for propagating milkweeds and other forage plants to aid in monarch recovery.
The first event was a certificate course offered through the University of Arizona Global Initiatives continuing education program. This first bilingual, binational intensive field course involved a total of 28 participants and took place in the border towns of Nogales Arizona/Sonora, with field trips to field sites, nurseries and seed production facilities in Tucson, Patagonia and Canelo Hills, Arizona. Offered through grants from the National Park Service and W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the University of Arizona Southwest Center–the fiscal host for the “Make Way for Monarchs” alliance, a 4 day 30 hour bilingual course offered technical training on nursery management and milkweed propagation for monarch recovery. In addition to University of Arizona instructors Laura Monti, Gary Nabhan, Laura Lopez-Hoffman and Ruscena Widerholt, other guest instructors included experts from the Correo Real project of Pro-Fauna, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Universidad Autonoma de Queretero, Sky Islands Alliance, Southwest Monarch Study, Borderlands Restoration, USDA National Park Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Desert Survivors, and Make Way for Monarchs itself. The course offered an overview of factors relating to monarch endangerment and recovery, techniques for monitoring, principles of nursery management, specifics of seed collecting, cleaning, storage, germination and propagation of milkweeds (along with vegetative propagation), marketing and field seed production for restoration. Participants came from five U.S. federal agencies, two Mexican agencies, five non-profits and three universities, as well as from farms and community gardens.
The second event took place just a few days later at a binational ecological monitoring workshop in Big Bend National Park, with David Larson and Jeff Bennett of the National Park Service co-facilitating it along with Sergio Avila, Conservation Scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A number of high-ranking Mexican conservation officials from CONANP and CONABIO facilitated discussions or lectured a group of over 40 total participants. The staff of five National Parks in the Southwestern U.S. and five protected areas in the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico learned how to apply the same monitoring methods for species and habitats found on both sides of the border. Gary Nabhan was assisted by Sergio Avila of the Desert Museum and Ignacio March Mifsut of CONANP in laying out citizen science involvement in monitoring of monarchs and milkweeds, as well as data sharing across borders. University and non-profit conservation professionals joined protected areas staff for the field sessions.
These experiences in the heat of the summer were both exhilarating and exhausting, but everyone went home more inspired, equipped and convinced that truly equitable collaborations on behalf of monarchs and milkweeds can transcend languages, cultures and geopolitical boundaries for the shared good of humankind and the biodiversity we all depend upon for beauty, and environmental health.