Featured Volunteer: Jenna Stanek

Jenna Stanek, a PEEC volunteer, believes it’s important to create connections and give back to the community. She volunteered to set up and maintain a live Monarch butterfly information table and exhibit at the nature center. Guests were able to watch Monarchs go from eggs to caterpillars to chrysalides to butterflies that were tagged and released. 

We hope you enjoy reading about one of our hard-working volunteers!

PEEC: Where are you from and how did you end up in Los Alamos?

J.S.: I grew up in Pennsylvania. Over the years I’ve followed a long, winding path across the country: living in Colorado, Wyoming, South Carolina, and California, my current job has brought me to Los Alamos.

PEEC: Tell us about your education and career.

J.S.: I received a Bachelors degree in Environmental Policy and Spanish. After graduating I quickly decided politics were not for me. I worked and saved money to go back to school and ended up with a Bachelors in Biology and a Masters in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology. I traveled around the country as a seasonal employee doing backcountry work in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and water quality monitoring at a toxicology lab. I then settled down and worked for a small non-profit wildlife research organization for 8 years in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains before moving to Los Alamos this April. I currently work at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a biologist with the Environmental Protection Compliance and Stewardship Group.

My husband and I met in college while we were both pursuing biology degrees and have been best friends ever since! We have two children: Sylvia (1st grade) and Archer (preschool).

PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC??

J.S.: When I first moved to Los Alamos, I was extremely impressed with PEEC’s mission and the many programs they provide for our community. I knew I wanted to be involved right away. I filled out a volunteer form and talked to some local staff; it was a very easy and organized process to get involved. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill

PEEC: How did you become interested in butterflies?

J.S.: As a young child, I loved the outdoors and all things wild. I remember watching the butterflies that would come to my mother’s zinnia flower garden in the summers in Pennsylvania. Monarch butterflies were my absolute favorite.

PEEC: Can you explain the tags on the butterflies?

J.S.: In the spring, Monarch butterflies migrate from their wintering ground along the coast of California and Mexico to their breeding ground in the northern and central part of the U.S., then back again over five generations. Yes, I said 5 generations! It’s fascinating to me they know where to go. The last generation migrates to the wintering ground, can live up to 8 months, and in the spring will return to the southern part of the United States to lay eggs on the emerging milkweed. It’s generally thought the Monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains winters in Mexico and the population west of the Rocky Mountains winters along the coast of California. However, based on tagging efforts (where a tiny sticker is placed on migrating Monarchs) the southwestern Monarch populations seemingly go to either. New Mexico, in particular, has a dearth of information on where Monarch populations go for the winter. Only one tagged Monarch has been recovered.

I am participating in tagging Monarch butterflies in Los Alamos County, part of the tagging effort of the Southwest Monarch Study, where scientists are researching the migration and breeding patterns of Monarch butterflies in the southwestern United States. Scientists document tagged monarchs by doing monarch counts on their wintering grounds. If a tag is seen they then report it to the specific tag distributor (southwestern monarch study in our case). The tag distributor then contacts who they gave that specific tag to. 

PEEC: How did you find the Monarch eggs?

J.S.On August 20th, 2018, my coworker Brent Thompson and I observed a tattered, older looking female Monarch butterfly laying eggs on Horsetail Milkweed (Asclepias subverticillata), a species that commonly grows along the roadsides in the Los Alamos area. When we observed the patch of milkweed plants closer, we found three Monarch Butterfly eggs. Because the milkweed was along the roadside and could potentially be mowed for fire prevention we decided to collect the eggs and raise them. Once the eggs hatched, we thought it would be a great idea to see if the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) would be interested in hosting the Monarch caterpillars to help spread educational awareness about this once common and iconic butterfly. While I was washing off milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) to feed the baby caterpillars from a plant that I had planted in my backyard to attract Monarchs, I found 8 more eggs! Additionally, my neighbor found at least 2 caterpillars and 3 eggs on her milkweed plant. It goes to show that if you plant it, they will come! Anyone can plant Milkweed. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful, drought tolerant, deer and gopher resistant, native perennial with orange flowers and is sold at the Petree Garden Center.

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

J.S.: I love volunteering especially when it involves things that I am passionate about. In the past, I’ve found volunteering as a way to reduce stress, find friends, reach out to the community, and learn new skills. I also feel that it demonstrates to my children that being involved in your community is a priority.

PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?

J.S.: I love gardening, backpacking, hiking, camping, and climbing mountains; especially those above 13,000 ft elevation. 

My family and I went for a walk along the East Fork Trail in Valles Caldera National Preserve. We saw a bear munching on some current and wild raspberries. Honestly, any trail in the LA/WR area is gorgeous. I absolutely love the open spaces in and around this area.

PEEC: In your opinion, what’s the most important work PEEC does?

J.S.: Environmental education is so paramount, especially in this day and age. “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.) PEEC plays a major role in this experience for our community. They help locals and visitors learn about the beautiful Pajarito Plateau and how to enjoy wildlife safely.

PEEC: What do you love about the Pajarito Plateau?

B.W.: I love the variety of the outdoors. Going from the river up to the Pinon-Juniper life zone, to the mountains, there is so much to be enjoyed and appreciated. This place was made for hiking and outdoor enjoyment.

PEEC: What is on your wish list for PEEC for the next ten years?

J.S.: I would love for PEEC to be registered and certified as a Monarch Waystation Site. I’m sure they can accomplish this in a short amount of time, definitely less than a 10 year time.

PEEC: Best or funny memory working with PEEC?

J.S.: Asking the PEEC staff if they would like to host Monarch caterpillars in an exhibit and having all of the staff be incredibly excited about having the Monarch caterpillars at the nature center.

PEEC: If you could be a local animal which would you pick and why?

J.S.: A dragonfly. Dragonflies spend their early lives as larvae in rivers and streams eating other aquatic insects. They then emerge from the water and live their adult lives in the air. Some species even migrate as far south as Mexico. This way I could spend time in the water, on land, and in the air traveling far and wide.

PEEC: Do you have advice for people interested in volunteering?

J.S.: PEEC makes volunteering incredibly easy. You can give however much or little time depending on your interests and schedule. The staff is appreciative and flexible. It is a rewarding experience.

To read more about Jenna and the Monarch Butterflies, click here for her most recent blog post: https://peecnature.org/raising-monarch-butterflies-in-los-alamos-county/

-If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please email Christa Tyson at visitorservices@peecnature.org. 

Article by Christa Tyson, PEEC Visitor Services Manager