Friday, February 6, 2009

"Gran'pa, tell me about when there were butterflies."

Down at the nature center we try to keep plugged in with Chip Taylor up at the University of Kansas. For some 16 years now Chip and his gang in Lawrence have been running an educational outreach program called Monarch Watch focusing on everything relating to monarch butterflies. Seems now there is serious doubt Monarch Watch will survive for a 17th year.

So what? I mean, what's all the hoopla with some butterfly? Imagine some day down the road when a grandchild crawls up on your lap and says, "Gran'pa, tell me about when there were butterflies." Our young Texans have all but lost contact with horny toads, officially registered as a "threatened" species in spite of being our official state reptile. Will the monarch butterfly be the next wild creature to vanish from our yards and gardens?

Not if Chip and other dedicated professional scientists and citizen scientists can help it. Through Monarch Watch, thousands of school kids have learned and continue to learn about the life cycle and the astonishing migrations of the monarch. Thousands of students, their teachers and parents diligently plant and care for Monarch Waystations filled with host plants and nectar plants essential to the butterflies in an effort to replace habitat lost to human development. And something over 100,000 of these amateur scientists and naturalists tag monarch butterflies each fall during the migration to the wintering grounds in Mexico.

This annual tagging program provides Chip and other researchers invaluable data on the monarchs. More importantly, though, the several projects under Monarch Watch get our kids excited about participating in hands-on science. The get to experience science first hand, not as something done only by white-coated nerds locked away in ivory towers and only read about by real people in boring textbooks. These kids get to go outside and make a difference.

Now Chip needs our help if this invaluable program is to continue. See for yourself what Monarch Watch is all about and what it is accomplishing at http://monarchwatch.org. And while you're there, stop by the store and pick up a book or two. Before you leave, pull out the plastic and tell Chip and the gang "Thank you!" with a donation. Large or small, every little bit helps.

Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be glad you did.
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