The University of Texas at San Antonio has joined a growing coalition of local institutions dedicated to helping the city fulfill its role as a Monarch Champion City. Amid the urban sprawl that continually threatens habitats and resources of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, the university dedicated 6.8 unused acres of the campus to Monarch habitat restoration.
“This is going to be heaven for the Monarch,” UTSA President Ricardo Romo said at a pledge signing event on Friday.
San Antonio was founded as an oasis for travelers moving through the rugged territory, said Romo, so it was only appropriate to create an oasis for another traveling species.
By clearing common invasive species like ash juniper and hackberry trees, students and volunteers with the UTSA Monarch and Milkweed Project will be restoring the native prairie ecosystem, and clearing space for the butterflies. The 6.8 acres will serve as an outdoor classroom to be maintained by students and researches.
The habitat contains most of Texas’s 35 native varieties of milkweed, as well as some tropical varieties proven to be Monarch favorites. As a certified National Wildlife Federation (NWF) habitat, the university will be able to apply for numerous grants to continue the study of Monarch and their habitats. The current research is focused on identifying which varieties of milkweed are preferred by Monarch caterpillars and easy to incorporate into a home garden.
Terri Matiella, an environmental sciences student at UTSA and member of the Monarch and Milkweed Project, said she hopes to see actionable outcomes from all of the research so that Monarch conservation efforts can expand.
The Monarch migration path currently extends from Michoacán, Mexico where the Monarchs move over winter from southern Canada. Loss of habitat and changing weather patterns have led to a noticeable depletion of this valuable pollinator. San Antonio lies at the heart of what is called the “Texas Funnel,” where Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains converge to enter Mexico during their southern migration. San Antonio is the only city on the migration path to agree to the 24 specific actions required by the NWF as criteria to become a Monarch Champion.
Mayor Ivy Taylor pointed out that the Monarch has much to teach all of us, and has become a rallying point for the community.
“We can all really be inspired by the extraordinary power and tenacity of the Monarch,” said Taylor. “We can play a huge role going forward ensuring that they survive.”
San Antonio River Authority, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the City of San Antonio Department of Parks and Recreation are just a few of the partners committed to the Monarch Champion pledge. Taylor would like to see action spreading across home yards and gardens citywide.
Romo also recognized activist Monika Maeckle of Texas Butterfly Ranch, who has advocated to save the species before it became a mainstream issue.
Maeckle said that since Taylor signed the NWF pledge, issue visibility has increased dramatically. Businesses are calling for advice on how to plant monarch-friendly gardens, and local institutions like the San Antonio Zoo have begun education initiatives. She celebrated UTSA’s move as a major statement about the importance of the issue, and the dedication of substantial acreage to habitat restoration and education.
“Nobody’s really doing that on the scale its being done here,” said Maeckle.
Benjamin Tuggle, southern regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pointed out that when academic institutions make this kind of commitment, it goes beyond the conservation of a species of butterflies, but to furthering the soul of conservation.
“We’re committing to a future that has open space,” said Tuggle.
That open space allows us to connect to the wild and cultivates our desire to preserve it, said Tuggle.
The humble Monarch serves as the state insect of Texas, and is brining much attention t the plight of pollinator decline. Tuggle pointed out that it is, in some senses, the ideal spokesmodel for conservation. While it is not a “charismatic megafauna,” as Toggle pointed out, it is an inspiring touchpoint in our interconnected web of life.
“Who can’t be challenged by Monarch butterflies?” Tuggle said.
He pointed out the analogous lifecycle of the Monarch, which we see in our own species. A group of Glenn Oaks Elementary School fourth-graders joined the celebration as junior scientists, and Tuggle pointed to them as the key beneficiaries of conservation efforts.
“That’s why I’m glad these little people are here,” said Tuggle, “They are going through a similar metamorphosis.”
Janis Bush, director of environmental science academic programs at UTSA presented a plaque of appreciation to Cheryl Jefferson, strategic initiatives director with the U.S. Forest Service – Southern Research Station, for her integral role in moving the initiative forward.
“You found us,” said Bush.
Bush enjoyed support from public entities, and enthusiastic generosity from various university operations departments, as they readily offered up 25 unused acres and long term participation in the project and then helped clear and convert it.
“We told Dr. Bush she could have whatever she wanted. She said she wanted 6.8 acres,” said Romo, “If she ever needs more, we have more.”
Top Image: The 6.8 acres serve as an outdoor classroom and protected habitat area for migrating Monarch butterflies. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone