New director of Monarch Watch hopes to continue building program

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Monarch Watch is still chasing butterflies — now under a new leader.

Kristen Baum is now at work as the director of the conservation program dedicated to the monarch butterfly, according to a University of Kansas news release.

After founder and former Director Orley “Chip” Taylor last year announced he would be stepping away from Monarch Watch, the search for a leader to continue his legacy ensued. The organization announced Baum’s hiring in July.

“Under Chip’s leadership, Monarch Watch has developed an international reach through research, education and on-the-ground conservation efforts that have benefited the monarch butterfly, as well as other pollinators and wildlife,” Baum said in the news release. “I’m honored to have been selected to lead Monarch Watch and build on these efforts that have been decades in the making.”

Baum previously worked as a professor and associate dean for research in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oklahoma State University. She officially began as director of Monarch Watch this week, hoping to build on the organization’s nearly 31 years of existence.

“When close to retirement, I realized that the program was reaching at least 100,000 people a year and that it simply had to continue,” Taylor said in the release. “I’m excited and pleased to see this program continue and to be able to turn the directorship over to Kristen Baum. Kristen is an outstanding scientist, a dynamic and experienced leader with a strong research program. She also has an outstanding record as an adviser to developing scientists.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A butterfly and chrysalises rest on a twig during the Monarch Watch Fall Open House, Sept. 16, 2023.

Baum’s research discusses the effects of land use and management practices on nature’s pollinators, including native bees, honey bees, monarch butterflies and other insects. To support conservation efforts for these vital pollinators, she has served as an advocate on a number of state, regional and national working groups.

As director of Monarch Watch, Baum will also join the Kansas Biological Survey and Center for Ecological Research as well as the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Both operate through KU.

Since 1992, Monarch Watch has provided education, research and advocacy through the University of Kansas. Members study the monarch butterfly and its habitat and fall migration.

Read more about Baum’s research, including recent publications, at experts.okstate.edu. Learn more about Monarch Watch’s work at monarchwatch.org.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Gray coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, is a long blooming native perennial whose name refers to the gray cone under the brown disk florets, here being visited by a bumblebee interested in their sweet nectar.

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