The Tri-Regional Monarch Flyway Strategy Program
The annual migration of Monarch Butterflies is one of the most impressive phenomena in the natural world. Every spring, vast numbers of monarch butterflies undertake a multi-generational journey from their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico to temperate areas of the United States thousands of miles to the north where they will summer, only to return back to Mexico in the fall. How the butterflies know to make this journey continues to confound scientists, as no butterfly lives long enough to make the entire journey there and back.
What is known with certainty, however, is that this incredible yearly pilgrimage is under threat from habitat destruction, which has drastically reduced the population of migrants in recent decades. The state of Texas is a crucial link link between the Monarch's wintering grounds in Mexico and their summer habitat further North, and effectively, the preservation of habitat here is of paramount importance to the continued survival of this natural wonder.
THE TRI-REGIONAL MONARCH FLYWAY STRATEGY PROGRAM is an effort to restore, increase and enhance Monarch habitat across three regions that serve as critical links in the monarch butterfly's flyway, while also serving to protect habitat for other pollinators that are crucial to local ecosystems and agriculture. The three regions included in the program are:
The Flyway Strategy Program was originally devised for the Gulf-Houston Region, and was expanded as the demand for greater coordination for planning needs and funding opportunities became apparent.
The eventual aim of the program is a contiguous monarch butterfly habitat along the entire Texas coastline and the critical upland regions included in the project. This program brings together multiple nonprofit, governmental and school-based organizations, including 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 15+ cities, 3 local government entities, 4 school districts and 22 non-profit organizations. See chart below for more detail:
In May 2015, the White House's Pollinator Health Task Force issued a document entitled National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which included a goal to increase the Monarch population to 225 million by 2020. Between 1996 and 2013 this population plummeted from nearly one billion to only 35 million, a decline of almost 97% percent. This federal effort identified the I-35 Corridor as the focus area for federal conservation efforts, which will involve the United States Department of Transportation working with State DOT's preserve habitat along the corridor. The government announced that work with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region was already underway.
However, while the sunny areas of short vegetation along the interstate provide good habitat for the migrants, the Monarch's flyway includes many areas outside of the relatively narrow bandwidth of the interstate corridor, necessitating a robust response to habitat destruction on a state and local level. This need has been further exacerbated by current uncertainty about federal policy towards pollinators under the new administration.
In 2016 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department issued the Texas Monarch & Native Pollinator Conservation Plan aimed at protecting the Monarchs and 30 other pollinator species in Texas. The pillars of this plan are:
- Habitat Conservation
- Inventory of Current Habitat Conservation and Management Activities on Public Lands
- Conservation and Perpetuation of Floral Resources and Larval Host Plants on Public Lands
- Native Pollinator Protocols for Agricultural Tax Valuation Based on Wildlife Management
- Native Pollinator Protocols for State Development Projects
- Education and Outreach
- Partnerships and Collaboration
The Tri-Regional Monarch Flyway Strategy is an outgrowth of the Gulf Houston Regional Conservation Plan's Monarch Flyway Strategy, which is a collaborative effort modeled after TPWD's Conservation Plan focused on preservation and creation of monarch butterfly and other pollinator habitat in the 8-county area in and around Greater Houston. Interest in the plan from regions outside of the 8-county Gulf Houston Region made clear the need for collaboration across a broader area, leading to the creation of the Tri-Regional Monarch Flyway Strategy, which includes projects in Hill Country and South Texas in addition to the Greater Houston Area. TPWD is working to include the Tri-Regional MFS in the next revision of the Plan. The Tri-Regional MFS Program includes three phases, which include the restoration and enhancement of:
A) Grass and riparian lands in urban area
B) Rural/Suburban Areas
C) Sustainability and long term maintenance of these areas.
Scientific findings show these focus areas are critical to monarch and other pollinator conservation, expansion and protection of these species.
The Tri-Regional MFS Program will establish, restore, or enhance 40+ new patches (areas of less than half an acre) of pollinator habitat and well over 50 additional acres of Monarch butterfly habitat. Current proposed projects include providing at least 5 regional workshop opportunities for professional and public participation and will support local stewardship through
- On-the-ground restoration/enhancement projects,
- Nectar and Milkweed plant propagation,
- Environmental education programming and
- The creation of conservation career ladders.
Recent Updates on Local Monarch Policy:
- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently accepted the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Mayors’ Monarch Pledge and is working with all MFS partners on a 3-goal plan for habitat restoration and increased pollinator gardens with the City of Houston.
- FWS and NWF have organized Education and Outreach committees for focus on regional communication and awareness of Monarch Conservation needs.
- Utilizing funding received from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists are working to enhance or restore 14,910 acres of habitat for monarch butterflies within the monarch’s migratory flight path through Texas. Restoration will occur on 160 acres of public land on five wildlife management areas and 14,750 acres of private land through a partnership with the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture Grassland Restoration Incentive Program. Texas Parks and Wildlife Service continues to partner locally on Monarch Butterfly conservation through various NGO Programs focused on Monarch sightings, Migration mapping, Butterfly Habitat creation and Milkweed identification and mapping.
- The National Butterfly Association’s Center, in partnership with the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges, is working to create approximately 67 acres of native nectar plant and milkweed habitat across Hidalgo County, Texas. Their work will significantly increase the availability of native milkweed seeds and plants by surveying and collecting on Refuge tracts. This project will also help to build capacity for new monarch habitat through stakeholder workshops and pilot projects.
In 2015, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) established the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund to protect, conserve and increase habitat for these iconic insects and other pollinators. Created with an initial $1.2 million commitment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the fund will pool additional funding from other private and public donors and matching resources from grantees.
The Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund focuses on three priority conservation needs to restore the monarch butterfly to a more robust and healthy population:
- Habitat restoration of native milkweed and nectar plants
- Increasing organizational capacity and coordination among organizations, states, and regions engaged in various aspects of monarch conservation
- Native seed production, distribution, and increasing availability of seeds and plants essential to habitat restoration.
Houston Wilderness received a generous award from NFWF's Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund in 2016 to implement the Gulf-Houston MFS. Currently Tri-Regional MFS Partners continue to seek funding from NFWF as well as other funding opportunities to implement the Tri-Regional Monarch Flyway Strategy.
GULF HOUSTON REGION
The Gulf-Houston Monarch Flyway Strategy is part of the Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan, which is a long-term collaborative of environmental, business and governmental entities working together to create a first-ever ecosystem continuity and connectivity plan for the Gulf-Houston Region.
The Gulf-Houston Monarch Flyway Strategy (MFS) was created as a collaborative region-wide effort focused on the preservation and creation of monarch butterfly and other pollinator habitat in the 8-county area in and around Greater Houston. The Strategy has 3 phases in urban, suburban and rural areas as well as long term sustainability and maintenance need. The Strategy focuses on 4 major key parts: 1) Habitat Conservation, 2) Education and Outreach, 3) Research, Monitoring & Job Creation, and 4) Partnership & Collaboration.
To learn more about this region's Monarch Flyway Strategy, apply for funding or to get involved, click here.
SOUTH TEXAS REGION
1. South Texas Urban Refuge Program – The South Texas Urban Refuge program is focused on building sustainably and increasing monarch habitat in the region. It supports the Santa Ana, Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Laguna Atascosa NWRs and surrounding communities. The following projects will help create urban habitats in multiple communities in the region.
- Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) High School Project – 1) Santa Ana NWR will partner with PSJA High School to create one milkweed seed plot (~800 sq feet to about .25 ac).
- Santa Ana NWR - will hire an SCA for implementation of seed and plant propagation of native milkweed. This intern will work with PSJA ISD to increase the availability of native milkweeds for their seed plot and for use in schoolyard and pocket parks in the region.
- Santa Ana NWR will host 1-2 workshops in partnership with PSJA ISD to share lessons learned, steps forward and how other individuals and community members can get involved in monarch and pollinator conservation efforts.
- South Texas Urban Refuge - will create 20-25 patches of monarch habitat in the cities neighboring the three refuges using funds for seeds and plants, as well as donated plants from the schoolyard habitat propagation.
2. Aransas NWR - Aransas NWR and the Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island will plant native plants and create a pollinator area around one of the refuge's water features important to wildlife and a good place for the public to enjoy wildlife watching. This project will also feature artwork depicting pollinators around the water tower and trail enhancement to improve accessibility.
If you have a project you would like to submit to the Tri-Regional MFS Click the Link Here
HILL COUNTRY REGION
1. Balcones Canyonlands NWR (BCNWR) – BCNWR and Friends of BCNWR would like to establish/construct monarch/pollinator habitat on partner lands for 4 entities.
2. Candlelight Ranch Project – Restoration of existing grasslands on Candlelight Ranch, which is a non-profit partner that delivers creative, hands-on programs and nature-based activities for special needs and at-risk youth.
3. City of Jonestown Project – A refuge neighbor, the City of Jonestown will become the site of a new monarch/pollinator experience through the planting and establishment of native vegetation for monarchs/pollinators on parklands. The city also hopes to provide interpretive signage to the public to encourage community stewardship and understanding.
4. Lago Vista ISD Campus Project – A refuge neighbor, the City of Lago Vista’s ISD would like to establish monarch/pollinator gardens on both the Lago Vista Intermediate and Elementary School campus. Both will be utilized to provide hands-on education and enrich the science curriculum for Kindergarten through 5th grade in Lago Vista, TX.
Monarch butterflies travel through San Antonio and the surrounding Central Texas area each fall on their annual migration to Mexico, although in recent years, their numbers have dwindled. There are many organizations working on Monarch and Pollinator restoration in the Texas Hill Country. See a list of Partners working on monarch and pollinator conservation efforts below:
- Texan By Nature
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- Keep Austin Beautiful
- Texas Parks and Wildlife
- Native Prairies Association of Texas
- Texas Butterfly Ranch
If you have a project you would like to submit to the Tri-Regional MFS Click the Link Here
Click the bumble bee above to read the Southwest FarmPress article on "The importance of pollinators to soil and water conservation in Texas"
The Tri-Regional Monarch Flyway Strategy is an initiative spearheaded by