Texas' state insect faces demise, so the feds are stepping in. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday a plan to revitalize the Monarch butterfly population, which has fallen by more than 90 percent in the last two decades.I certainly hope this effort isn't too little, too late to make a difference. There was recently a little bit of good news from Mexico, where the overwintering monarch population, based on colony size, seems to have increased from the previous winter's record low:
Last month, the Chronicle reported that the butterflies were being considered for a place on the endangered species list. Experts said the main culprit of the monarchs' devastating decline is the use of genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops that allow farmers to drench fields in weed poison, prohibiting the growth of native plants the butterflies use to eat and lay eggs.
"We've been aware of the plight of the monarch butterfly in North America for some time and we have been looking at ways that we can go about reversing the situation, and I think it was decided that what we needed was really immediate on-the-ground action," said FWS spokesman Gavin Shire.
The service pledged $3.2 million to monarch revival, most of which will fund habitat restoration projects. Texas will host 10 of 24 scheduled projects, with in more than $700 thousand in funding. The main goal: plant more milkweed.
However, the trend line is obvious to anybody who looks at this graph. As Monarch Watch cautions:
Although this figure represents an improvement from the 0.67 hectares recorded last year, it’s the second lowest population on record and the third low population in as many years.The FWS is collaborating with two private conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, on this campaign to save the monarch. It is also working with state governments. Because of its location on the monarchs' migration path, Texas is key:
The FWS will form a "Texas Native Pollinator Initiative" with hopes of gathering local partners from across the state to spread native milkweed seeds and monitor the monarch population. Other projects involve partnerships with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.Plant. That. Milkweed.
Shire called Texas, especially the Interstate 35 corridor, a "critical breeding, wintering and migration corridor for the monarchs," which is largely why Texas will see so many of the federally-funded restoration projects.
It's also why the Texas Legislature named the butterflies the state insect in 1995. Then, a billion of the regal bugs flew through the Lone Star State on their way to Mexico each year. Twenty years later, about 30 million remain. Texas used to herald the sight of tens of thousands of butterflies nesting on a single, but it's seen less often today. However the plight of the monarchs has garnered significant attention in just the past month, and promising efforts could bring the fragile creatures back from the brink of extinction.