top of page

2023 INTERNATIONAL
WESTERN MONARCH SUMMIT

SPEAKER BIOS

Pismo Beach/San Luis Obispo, California

January 20 - 22, 2023

WMA Summit 2023 Graphic sm.png

Kenneth Abernathy, Founder of Caterpillar Chow LLC is a building and design expert who began his journey into the universe of the monarch amidst a brand new love affair, a debilitating injury and therapy from an unlikely source- monarch caterpillars in the garden. A few years later and now he is building a nursery & education center in Lakeside, California in order to further research into the importance of milkweed not just for the monarch, but for our natural ecology as a whole.

Presentation Title: “Propagation of native milkweeds at Caterpillar Chow Nursery”

Héctor Ávila is a conservation biologist established in central Mexico. He promotes pollinator conservation actions from his positions, like participating in the elaboration of Mexico’s Pollinator Conservation Action Plan or as an entrepreneur in his spare time, like creating “Cosmos Semillas Nativas”, Mexico’s first wildflower seed provider for pollinator habitat. His organization ‘Cosmos’ recently received the 2022 NAPPC Pollinator Advocate Award for Mexico by The Pollinator Partnership.

Presentation Title: “Expanding alternatives for monarch butterfly habitat restoration: The firstnative wildflower seed production effort in Mexico.”

* THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL PRESENTATION

Ann Baldridge​ is the Executive Director at the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego. The RCDGSDC’s programs include management of two community gardens and a farm, environmental education programs, support to farmers and ranchers, wildfire preparedness and forest health, and pollinator habitat improvement – including a native milkweed project and habitat on working lands. Ann enjoys the diversity and impact of this work, and the opportunity to collaborate with so many wonderful partners.

Presentation Title: “Monarch conservation efforts in San Diego County”

Amanda Barth is the rare insect conservation coordinator for Utah State University, and leads Utah’s Rare Insect Conservation Program (RICP) that works closely with the Division of Wildlife Resources. She is beginning her fourth year serving as chair for the Western Monarch and Native Insect Pollinator Working Group with the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), which coordinates pollinator conservation efforts with Western states and federal partners.

Presentation Title: “WAFWA’s Western Monarch Conservation Plan – Outlined Actions for community Partners Across the West”

Kelly Bills, Executive Director of Pollinator Partnership, has been dedicated to pollinator conservation for over a decade. Her focus is on large-scale habitat projects and diverse stakeholder engagement. Kelly holds a Master’s of Science in Environmental Management from the University of San Francisco. She manages Pollinator Partnership’s programs, including the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) Kelly serves on the Board of Directors of Pollinator Partnership Canada and the Advisory Committee of Monarch Joint Venture.

Presentation Title: “Dedicated to Monarchs, Pollinators and Biodiversity”

Lisa Damerel - Through her work with the Contra Costa Resource Conservation District (CCRCD), Lisa helps to cultivate sustainable relationships between people, plants, and wildlife. She serves as Watershed Conservation Manager for the Walnut Creek Watershed, she facilitates the Contra Costa Watershed Forum, and she leads the CCRCD’s Monarch Conservation Program. Lisa has a BA with Honors in English from the University of California at Berkeley. She joined the CCRCD’s staff in January 2019.

Presentation Title: “RCD-led monarch conservation efforts in Contra Costa and Monterey Counties”

Dr. Micah Freedman is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Botany at the University of British Columbia, where he is researching chemical ecology of monarch/milkweed interactions. During his PhD, he studied the ecological and evolutionary consequences of the monarch’s recent global range expansion and loss of seasonal migration. As an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago, he studied the functional genomics of toxin sequestration in monarchs.

Presentation Title: “Using cardenolide fingerprints to infer natal origins and migratory patterns in the western North American Monarch butterflies”

Carianne Funicelli is a well-known advocate for native plant conservation and restoration, and has conducted projects large and small throughout the southwest region, both in wild areas and urban landscapes. She has worked in the government, business, and non-profit sectors over the past 25 years, and recently has started her own consulting firm, Strategic Habitat Enhancements (SHE), which allows her to help clients bring nature to their yards with strategic native plant choices.

Presentation Title: "Creating Site-specific Native Plant Palettes for Pollinator Conservation”

Bobby Gendron lives in the California Bay Area and holds a degree in Horticulture from Cal Poly SLO. In the early 1990’s Bobby volunteered for the Monarch Program in Encinitas, California tagging monarch butterflies and managing the Milkweed Resource Guide. He then founded Butterfly Encounters in 1997, a provider of milkweed seeds. Today Bobby is a dad, digital marketer, observer of milkweed in their native habitat, and encourages people to plant locally sourced native milkweed.

Presentation Title: “A Pictorial Tour of Native Milkweeds in the Western States”

Dr. Patrick Anthony Guerra is a sensory biologist in the Department of Biological Sciences, at the University of Cincinnati. Patrick and his research group are interested in understanding how brains, especially small ones, function such that animals can make sense of the world that they live in. Specifically, they investigate how animals, such as butterflies and moths, use environmental sensory cues to facilitate ecologically important behavioral tactics and strategies that help deal with environmental change.

Presentation Title: “This or that? Examining the orientation and navigational mechanisms of migrator monarchs who migrate from Arizona to overwinter in either California or Mexico”

Natasha Hadden earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology at Moorhead State University and her Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology at Utah State University. Currently, Natasha works at the Ashley National Forest team as a wildlife biologist. Natasha has been involved with monarch monitoring for 4 years in Eastern UT in collaboration with many great partners to gain more data and knowledge and improve pollinator habitat locally.

Presentation Title: “The Monarch Effect: Small communities, big impacts”

Codi Hale is the Outreach Coordinator for the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County. Through the RCD, she helps manage the San Diego Pollinator Alliance and SoCal Pollinator Network. She supports outreach for the San Diego Native Milkweed Project, and distributes regionally collected native milkweed seed to commercial growers and the community. She also works with farmers and ranchers interested in implementing pollinator habitat on their working lands.

Presentation Title: “Monarch conservation efforts in San Diego County”

Dr. David James is an Associate Professor at Washington State University with a PhD on monarch biology who has worked on monarch biology and ecology in Australia and the US for nearly half a century.  He is currently engaged in research on the biology and conservation of monarchs in the western US and directs the WSU monarch tagging program.  He is committed to harnessing the power of community scientists in furthering monarch research and conservation.

Presentation Title: “Western monarchs; The importance of a holistic understanding”

Sarina Jepsen holds a M.S. in Entomology. She directs the Endangered Species program at the Xerces Society, where she has worked to conserve monarch butterflies and other imperiled species since 2006. She oversees a program whose staff manage the Western Monarch Counts and Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, and who work with land managers to restore monarch overwintering and breeding habitat. Sarina co-authored the monarch ESA petition and best management practices to conserve monarchs.

Presentation Title: “Conservation priorities for Western monarchs and how you can help”

Dr. Tom Landis is a forester who retired after 30 years of working as a nursery specialist for the US Forest Service, and has spent the last 10 years creating pollinator habitat in southern Oregon. Starting in 2013, he has given over 125 Monarch and Milkweed workshops to garden clubs and other interested organizations. One of Tom’s primary interests is how to propagate native milkweeds and other pollinator plants which can be used in monarch waystations. 

Presentation Title: “Creating small-scale monarch waystations in backyard gardens, and community-scale waystations on public lands” and “Basic propagation of native milkweeds of the Pacific Northwest using both seeds and rhizomes”

Dr. Kingston Leong received his BS and MS from the University of Hawaii and his PhD from Oregon State University.  He is Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly University SLO, where he taught biology and entomology for many years.  His research interests, on which he has published many papers, include monarch biology, factors affecting monarch winter aggregations, and monarch overwintering habitat management. 

Presentation Title: “California overwintering habitat characteristics”

Becca Lucas is a tribal member of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini, Northern Chumash tribe of San Luis Obispo Region and County and a lecturer in the Ethnic Studies department at Cal Poly SLO. She has spent the last several years working on climate change and agriculture policy and holds a Master of Science in Agriculture, Food and Environment and a Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University.

Presentation Title: “Care for the land we are on”

Becky Martin is a Sustainability Manager at Toyota Motor North America leading projects in biodiversity, renewable energy and environmental justice. Previously, she worked at Burt's Bees, GameStop, Citigroup and nonprofits in sustainability, international development, IT and finance. She has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and MBA and Masters of Science in Natural Resources and Environment from University of Michigan. She volunteers with Santa Monica Bay Foundation restoring native habitats and underserved community school gardens.

Presentation Title: “Dedicated to Monarchs, Pollinators and Biodiversity”

Gail Morris is the Coordinator of the Southwest Monarch Study, a Citizen Science research project, based in Arizona. She is also a Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist and the Vice President of the Central Arizona Butterfly Association and the Monarch Butterfly Fund Boards. Gail writes regularly for Journey North’s Western Monarch Updates during the migration and has authored several monarch publications. She dedicates her time training Citizen Scientists to participate in monarch research, education, and conservation.

Presentation Title: “Divergent migration destinations and overwintering strategies of monarch butterflies in the Southwest.”

Dr. Ryan Norris is a Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Over the last 15 years, his research has focused on the ecology, behavior, and conservation of migratory songbirds, butterflies, and salamanders, many of which are threatened or endangered. In 2009, he began working on migration patterns of monarch butterflies and has since been involved in a number of monarch conservation projects, including a recent series of studies on the non-lethal effects of neonicotinoids.

Presentation Title: “Effects of a neonicotinoid on the development, survival, reproductive output and migratory orientation of monarch butterflies”

Steve Plath began growing native plants for revegetation in 1994 and has managed ecological restoration projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. Steve has managed the Gila Native Plant Nursery for the Gila Watershed Partnership in Safford, Arizona for four years. Prior to that he worked as Habitat Restoration Specialist for RECON Environmental, Inc. in Tucson, Arizona. He’s grown plant material for assorted federal, tribal, state and county agencies and other conservation organizations.

Presentation Title: "Propagation of Arid Region Milkweeds" and "Creating pollinator gardens in the Southwest”

Virginia Rivers completed her BS degree at Cal State University, Hayward, and her MS in Biology at San Diego State University. After completing her MS degree, she was hired at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, and taught Biology and Environment Science for 25 years. During her summers she worked with Dr. Peter Brussard on EPSCoR grants studying butterflies. She later moved to Idaho, and began tagging for David James’ monarch migration tagging study at WSU.

Presentation Title: “Conservation Efforts in Idaho”

Dr. Ron Rutowski - After completing a PhD at Cornell University in 1976, Ron Rutowski joined the faculty in life sciences at Arizona State University. where he is currently Professor Emeritus. His past and current research has focused on animal behavior and, more specifically, the function, production, and perception of color signals, especially in butterflies.  His 100+ publications describe investigations done not only in Arizona but also in Central and South America, Australia, and Europe. 

Moderator, Panel Discussion: Monarch Challenges in the West

Christine Sanderson is the Associate Director for the Monarch Joint Venture, a national nonprofit with over 120 partners. She supports MJV’s science, education, and habitat conservation initiatives. Christine has worked for nonprofits across the United States and Central America and holds an M.Ed. in Environmental Education from Western Washington University. What she loves most about working for the MJV is collaborating with diverse partners to bring all hands on deck for monarchs and pollinators.

Dr. Hillary Sardiñas is the Pollinator Coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. She has worked throughout the state restoring pollinator habitat and coordinating with public and private partners on pollinator-related conservation projects. She currently facilitates a plant materials work group that focuses on increasing the supply of early- and late-season milkweed and nectar producing resources for monarchs. She earned her bachelor’s from UC Santa Cruz and her PhD from UC Berkeley.

Presentation Title: “Bridging the gap: Using early season milkweed to support the first monarch generation”

Emily Spencer is the Resource Stewardship and Science river program lead at Dinosaur National Monument where she facilitates/coordinates the science, research, and land management practices that promote long-term resilience and sustainability of riparian ecosystems that make up the Northern Colorado Plateau, especially the Yampa and Green Rivers.  Emily became hooked on monarchs five years ago when she learned of the potential link between monarch butterflies and rivers as migration corridors.

Presentation Title: “The Monarch effect: Small communities, big impacts”

Dr. Chip Taylor is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Kansas. His research has included studies of reproductive isolating mechanisms in sulfur butterflies, reproductive and life history patterns in plants, comparative biology of European and Neotropical African honey bees (killer bees) and migratory behavior of monarch butterflies. Taylor founded Monarch Watch, a program currently focused on research and conservation of monarch butterflies. The tagging program has yielded many new insights about the monarch migration.

Presentation Title: “Climate change and monarchs in the West”

THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL PRESENTATION

Dra. Ek del Val is a research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Her main interest is
to understand the relationships between plants and insects and to use this information for conservation and
restoration programs. She considers it essential to promote science outreach programs to involve society in the
conservation of nature. For the past two years she has been involved with the Monarch Butterfly Fund to
promote community- based conservation efforts in Mexico

Presentation Title: “Efforts to conserve monarch butterflies in Mexico”

Dr. Francis Villablanca is a distinguished professor of Biological Sciences at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. He thinks critically about the biology of overwintering monarchs and comes to science based conclusions. He has a few publications on monarchs and more on the way. This work tests fundamental hypotheses about monarch overwintering biology. His goal is to contribute to identifying best management practices for monarch conservation thought data, analysis, and critical thinking. 

Presentation Title: “Milkweed is not a milkweed is not a milkweed”

THIS WILL BE A VIRTUAL PRESENTATION

Stuart Weiss, Ph.D. (Stanford 1996) is Chief Scientist at Creekside Science, which provides innovative science to conserve biodiversity. Since 1990, he has used hemispherical photography, and more recently LiDAR, to map forest canopy structure and assess wind and light exposure at dozens of overwintering monarch sites. He has recommended practical actions like tree planting to block wind vulnerabilities, or thinning to let in more sunlight, to maintain the exacting microclimatic conditions that monarchs require.

Presentation Title: “Designing overwintering monarch habitat: mapping the wind, the sun, and the trees”

Emeritus Professor Myron (Meron) Zalucki is the University of Queensland, Australia.  His PhD was on resource use in animals with monarch butterflies as the study system; the rest as they say is history.  He was awarded the Ian Mackerras Medal for excellence by the Australian Entomological Society and is a Fellow of The Entomological Society of America.  He is an insect ecologist with a long history of working on both pure and applied issues.

Presentation Title: “Will Monarchs go extinct?”

Dr. Emily Zefferman is the Ecologist for the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County, where she has worked for over 6 years. She is a co-founder and steering committee member of the Monterey Regional Monarch Alliance. Emily has a PhD in Ecology from UC Davis with an emphasis in restoration. She is working to increase the quality and quantity of pollinator habitat projects in Monterey County.

Presentation Title: “RCD-led monarch conservation efforts in Contra Costa and Monterey Counties”

WMA Logo White Silhouette with shadow sm
bottom of page