Bexar County Commissioners' Court reinforced San Antonio's status as the only Monarch Butterfly Champion City in the country Tuesday by issuing a proclamation pledging to work alongside the city and its partners on the National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) Mayor's Monarch Pledge to increase pollinator habitat.
Mayor Ivy Tyler signed the NWF pledge to increase pollinator habitat on Dec. 9, pledging to adopt all 24 recommended action items laid out by the conservation organization. County buy-in on the initiative should direct landscaping and maintenance choices associated with the upcoming San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, and continue to influence the Mission Reach and other uses of public land.
"San Antonio has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment compared to any other city in the country," Grace Barnett, NWF monarch outreach specialist, told County Judge Nelson Wollf and County Commissioners Tommy Calvert Jr. (Pct. 4) and Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3). Barnett said when she told her colleagues in Washington, D.C., that Bexar County was in essence signing the Pledge, they asked, "What's going on down there?" Barnett said NWF never expected any city to embrace all 24 actions items, much less have the County follow suit.
Such proclamations are often viewed as public relations stunts, but in this case the gesture seems to have galvanized citywide pollinator and native plant advocacy efforts, providing a framework and focus for channeling efforts and earning recognition. We can also expect some real change in how we manage public land.
After the proclamation, more than a dozen representatives from the University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio River Authority, the San Antonio Zoo, and several city departments crowded into a City Hall conference room for a 90-minute progress report to NWF's Barnett about what has been accomplished in the 32 days since the Mayor signed the Pledge. Quarterly check-ins with NWF assure the Pledge is not just talk.
Two events are already on the calendar: San Antonio's first butterfly festival – item number 17 on the Pledge's action item list – and a Girl Scouts Cookie Rally Pollinator Pathway this Saturday, Jan. 16.
San Antonio Zoo officials plan to distribute 1,500 milkweed seeds at its Monarchs, Milkweed and Migration Festival at the Zoo, which will take place Friday, March 4, 10:30 a.m.-2p.m. Events will include a butterfly release at the Zoo's butterfly house, insect presentations and displays, crafts, games and more. The festival will take place just as migrating Monarchs begin their nine-month migratory trek, leaving their ancestral winter roosts in Michoacán, Mexico, and heading our way in search of milkweed on which to lay the eggs that will become future generations of migrants.
This Saturday, CPS Energy is sponsoring a makeshift pollinator pathway on the asphalt of the AT&T Center parking lot. Landscape Architects Bender, Wells, Clark assisted with a design and helped orchestrate loaner plants for the temporary pollinator garden. The Girls Scouts will move through several educational activities staffed by volunteer topic experts who will explain the differences between host and nectar plants, the importance of bees, and the life cycle of butterflies before earning their "Pollinator Patch."
FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm a pollinator advocate and work as a consultant for CPS Energy on environmental and other issues.
Other action items are in process, such as the development of MMP branding that can be used in yard signs, bumper stickers and myriad communications, and more education of operations and maintenance staff regarding mowing schedules and plant care. Interestingly, many of the 24 MMP items have been implemented in San Antonio for years, just under different labels. San Antonio River Authority in particular was undertaking 17 of the 24 items when the Pledge was signed last month.
For example, item #9 on the MMP action item list, "Convert abandoned lots to Monarch habitat," can be addressed via the City's Adopt-A-Spot program, which began in partnership with Keep San Antonio Beautiful back in 2002.
The Adopt-A-Spot program encourages citizens to voluntarily adopt a piece of city land--green spaces, medians, and rights of way--and beautify them by removing trash and providing care. The Adopt-A-Spot Program could easily be amended to include the addition of pollinator habitat.
One item the Mayor's Office seems reluctant to act on is item #8, "plant a Monarch-friendly demonstration garden at City Hall or another prominent location."
Currently, nonnative cyclamen, boxwoods, and Asiatic jasmine adorn the planted areas around our City Hall. Why not replace those with more appropriate native pollinator plants like milkweed, Autumn Sage, Purple Coneflower, Turk's Cap and/or Gregg's Purple Mistflower?
"It's like pulling teeth," said Ruben Lizalde, who works on special projects and strategic initiatives for the mayor. While he didn't say so outright, the inference was that certain constituencies at City Hall don't necessarily find native plants as attractive as colorful imports and annuals – especially when they go to seed and look raggedy.
Mayor Taylor will put pollinator plants in her front yard, however. According to Lizalde, Mayor Taylor has committed to a "pocket pollinator prairie in pots" in front of her highly visible home that fronts Dignowity Park.
*Top image: Bexar County Commissioners Court issues a proclamation in support of Mayor's Monarch Pledge to increase pollinator habitat. From left: Grace Barnett, Julian Chavez, Terri Matiella, County Judge Nelson Wolff, County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, Jr., Monika Maeckle. Photo by Scott Ball.