When San Antonio became the first Monarch Butterfly Champion City in December, people in the conservation community outside the city limits took notice. Mayor Ivy Taylor was the first mayor in the country to commit to all 24 recommendations on the National Wildlife Federation's Mayor's Monarch Pledge action item list to increase Monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat in the country. Being first counts for something, even as mayors in at least 99 other cities have joined the Pledge.
Since December, the mayor's commitment has gained momentum. The San Antonio River Authority, Bexar County and dozens of city departments and local nonprofits have gotten on board to help Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Several city agencies featured Monarchs and/or butterflies on their Fiesta medals this year. And in late April, UTSA made a big commitment dedicating 6.8 acres of undeveloped land on its main campus to a major Monarch habitat restoration program.
On Monday, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) convened a working group of 40 people from nonprofit and local government entities at the offices of the San Antonio Area Foundation at the Pearl to start the process of a strategic plan that would guide San Antonio as it assumes a conservation leadership role as the first city to be named a Monarch Champion. To date, it is still the only U.S. city to earn that recognition from the NWF.
Click here to read the NWF's "Monarch Conservation in American Cities: A Solutions Guide for Municipal Leaders.
Encouraging local nonprofits and city agencies to "leave your logos at the door and focus on the butterfly," Grace Barnett, Monarch outreach specialist for the NWF's South Central Regional Center, led the group through the all-day work session. The goal: create a strategic plan for the community to implement Monarch conservation.
The session kicked off with a visioning exercise whereby participants broke into groups and were asked to imagine San Antonio five years from now. National Geographic magazine is doing a cover story on San Antonio's successful Monarch conservation efforts – what is the headline?
"San Antonio's newest mission: Monarch butterfly conservation," and "San Antonio sets the standard for Monarch butterfly hospitality" were among the suggestions.
Participants included representatives from Native Plant Society, Bexar County Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Green Spaces Alliance, the Mayor's Office, San Antonio River Authority, UTSA, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio Zoo, Monarch Joint Venture, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, Lake/Flato Architects, the Texas Butterfly Ranch, and others. Barnett said this was the seventh such meeting in the state and the first time a representative from a mayor's office attended the entire seven-hour session.
Two representatives from Austin made the trek down IH-35 to learn from San Antonio. Meredith Gray of the City of Austin's Parks Department and LaJuan Tucker of the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department Park Rangers represented Wildlife Austin, a capital city initiative that encourages Austinites to "keep Austin wild" by installing landscapes that cater to wildlife with native plants, water and shelter.
Both Gray and Tucker praised San Antonio's efforts and offered to share signage, ideas and other content they make available in Austin, including the video above. "I look forward to more collaborative efforts and partnerships that are sure to bring lasting measurable change to pollinator decline," said Tucker. (This ain't no San Antonio-Austin taco war, people.)
Other ideas included an urban fall Monarch butterfly roost along the Mission Reach, a biking event with riders tossing native seed bombs along the trail, and the need to connect in a single network the many habitat and park projects and other assets, including San Antonio's World Heritage status, the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek Improvement Projects, and the Howard Peak Greenway Trails System.
Among the issues addressed Monday: the diminished presence of native milkweed and nectar plants for migrating butterflies; the need for education and training programs for landscaping and grounds maintenance staffs; creating better mechanisms for knowledge sharing and collaboration, and the need for a general outreach and public awareness campaign.
Barnett conducted a pre-meeting survey of participants to get a snapshot of the Monarch and/or pollinator conservation efforts underway in the city. An interactive map (pictured below) shows current activities of those who responded to the survey.
The meeting brought into focus the challenge of restoring pollinator habitat in the city, but also energized participants encouraged by the growing attention to the issue and the number of partners working together.
"We have city government, state agencies, local utilities, the river authority, county agencies, nonprofits and many environmental groups all committed and in sync on implementing a real plan that will have a positive impact for the Monarch population and so many other pollinators and wildlife as a whole," said Gail Gallegos, executive director of Green Spaces Alliance. "The Monarch may be our 'King' butterfly, but it is also leading the challenge for San Antonians to rally together to give nature a helping hand."
Barnett said meetings with individual organizations will be held in the coming months, before the conservation planning committee regroups in August or September.
Top image Monarch butterfly lights on native Texana milkweed in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Monika Maeckle