Pollinator numbers are declining everywhere. Monarch butterflies are among those affected, facing threats including habitat loss and degradation, pesticides impacting their food supply, and climate change. The state of Texas is stepping up to do their part to help this important species recover.
The Texas Department of Transportation is enrolling more than 1.2 million acres of land in the nationwide Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conservation Agreement for Transportation and Lands. This agreement, administered by the University of Illinois-Chicago and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pushes transportation and energy agencies to help conserve monarchs by providing and maintaining habitat on right-of-ways and associated lands.
In Texas, that will consist of more than 73,000 center lane miles of highways and interstates. In addition, nearly 450,000 acres are being adopted as part of the effort.
James Stevenson, TxDOT maintenance division director, says, “TxDOT’s rights-of-way are excellent habitat for wildlife, including pollinators such as the monarch butterfly, as well as bats, bees, birds, and many more. Since milkweed is a crucial host plant for monarchs, TxDOT fully supports milkweed growth on state rights-of-way. Thousands of acres of milkweed appear on rights-of-way every year due to TxDOT’s longstanding wildflower and pollinator programs.”
While monarchs will feed on the nectar of many plants, milkweed is especially important to them. They will only breed where they can find milkweed because it’s what their larvae must eat to become butterflies. Unfortunately, it can be harder to find now due to pesticides and habitat loss.
To help address this, TxDOT will create, enhance, and maintain monarch butterfly habitat while continuing to operate, maintain, and update their existing-right-of-ways. This will involve seeding and planting nectar-producing wildflower seed mixes, brush control to promote roadway safety and pollinator habitat, conducting conservation mowing to enhance flower habitat, and using herbicides to control invasive species and restore native plants.
Iris Caldwell, program manager at the University of Illinois-Chicago, says, “TxDOT’s early participation in the CCAA has helped us make huge strides towards the conservation targets laid out in the agreement and build momentum with other transportation agencies and energy companies interested in supporting the monarch butterfly. TxDOT is a natural leader for this work given their well-established wildflower program and key position along the monarch flyway.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 45 energy and transmission companies and state departments of transportation have voluntarily joined the effort. They’re all taking similar actions to those in Texas in order to safeguard these important pollinators. The hope is that their hard work will prevent the need to list the monarch or speed up recovery if it is listed under the Endangered Species Act. The agency appreciates the teamwork of these partner groups.
Amy Lueders, FWS Southwest Regional Director, says, “The monarch butterfly is one of America’s most well-known native insects, but it has experienced significant population declines during recent decades. Through the monarch butterfly CCAA, we’re working with energy and transportation partners to help save this iconic species and other pollinators. We are incredibly grateful to TxDOT for joining the agreement and stepping up to help improve habitat and actively contribute to the recovery of monarchs on the millions of acres of highways and interstates they manage.”
They do have their work cut out for them, as the monarch’s numbers across North America are down by about 90% from their levels just 20 years ago.Whizzco