Help Monitor Monarch Butterflies

Saline Valley Monarch Overwintering Opportunities:

As you may know, monarch butterflies have declined by around 80% over the last 20 years. Scientists and citizens alike have been working to gather data that will help us make informed decisions about this species. Monarchs from the eastern U.S. overwinter in central Mexico while western monarchs typically overwinter on the coast of California. However, in some very unique areas in California, Nevada, and Arizona, monarchs are known to overwinter at inland sites. One of these areas is Saline Valley, part of Death Valley National Park. Starting in the 1970’s, a naturalist named Derham Giuliani began surveying some of these sites annually. Amazingly, he continued these surveys until 2008. This fall, with your help, I would like to revisit these sites and resume annual counts of these monarch populations.

Why are these surveys important?

Since monarchs are widely scattered through much of the year, ranging from Mexico to southern Canada, the only time in which population numbers can be estimated is during the fall and winter when these butterflies congregate at overwintering sites. In California, the largest of these counts is the Thanksgiving Count, which occurs in the three weeks around Thanksgiving. This year will mark the 20th year of these surveys in California.

What can you do?

The overwintering survey protocols require a minimum two-person survey team for each site. Surveys must begin while temperatures are still low enough (<55 degrees F) that monarchs are not flying. In Saline Valley, monarchs have been recorded in 7 canyons. My hope is that this year, with your help, we can survey all 7 canyons in one morning. This will require a minimum of 14 volunteers. Additional volunteers will be needed at the meeting location to provide teams with needed supplies, collect data sheets, and ensure that all teams return safely.

What will be involved?

These surveys will require camping, hiking, and possibly some scrambling to reach the survey locations. Some of the canyons will require volunteers to backpack into the canyon night before and camp. We plan to have a canyon lead for each site that will guide the surveyors. The lead will be familiar with the canyon and the potential hazards.

When will this take place?

Surveys will occur on either November 17-18th or December 1-2nd, depending on volunteer availability. If we do not have enough volunteers to complete all 7 canyons in one day, we may stay an extra day. We will arrive to camp on Friday where everyone will meet, go over the protocol, and get your canyon assignment. We will then disperse to our locations for the night. In the morning, we will survey and then meet back to debrief and ensure all volunteers have safely completed their survey. There may be an opportunity to assist with some monarch tagging on Saturday as well.

Will you help us?

If you are interested in helping, please respond to this email with the following information:

Name, email, and contact number

Preferred date (if you have one)

Hiking ability/experience

Knowledge of Saline Valley and the canyons on the east side of the Inyos

Do you have a 4×4 high clearance vehicle?

Are you willing to backpack into one of the canyons or would you prefer to car camp?

Do you have any first aid training?

Please feel free to pass this email along to anyone you think might be interested in helping. We are especially in need of folks that are familiar with these canyons.


If you have any questions or would like additional information you can reach me by email or by phone (760-614-5009).