San Antonio Renews Pledge as Monarch Champion City

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 —  Just as the Monarch butterfly migration season reaches its Texas peak, Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Monday announced San Antonio’s renewed commitment to the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Butterfly Pledge.

In December 2015, under then-Mayor Ivy Taylor’s leadership, San Antonio became the first city in the United States to receive the Monarch Champion designation, pledging to protect and restore habitat for Monarchs and other pollinators through 24 action items. In September 2016, McAllen joined the pledge, citing Taylor as an inspiration.

At a Monday news conference at the city’s Pollinator Garden just below the San Antonio River Authority along the King William Reach, former Mayor Phil Hardberger announced a $4,000 National Environmental Education Fund grant to the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy and put the need to aid species conservation efforts into homespun perspective.

Without pollination, “you wouldn’t have the tomato,” the lettuce, or the bun, Hardberger said. “And lastly, you probably wouldn’t have the patty either, because green things have to grow to feed the animals.”

While most citizens probably wouldn’t equate the Monarch butterfly species’ decline with the disappearance of their favorite burger, Tanya Sommer, branch chief of consultations and habitat conservation plans at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, put Hardberger’s thought in a more scientific light.

“Let’s not forget,” Sommer said, “millions of people rely on the crops and landscapes that pollinators sustain.”

With Nirenberg re-upping on the Taylor administration’s pledge to continue habitat creation such as the  pollinator “way station” garden and support efforts like those at the Hardberger Park Conservancy, the city provides migratory support through gardens and nesting areas, along with educational programs to teach youth the importance of birds and bees to their health and diet.

“We want to make sure Texas is part of the solution, not part of the problem,” said Janis Bush, professor and chair of UTSA’s Department of Environmental Science and Ecology, whose research in part informs decision-making on the city, state, and federal levels.

San Antonio is a key resting station, “like an old stagecoach inn,” Hardberger analogized, for millions of Monarchs on their migration route, which stretches 3,000 miles between Canada and Mexico.

It’s an amazing sight to see millions of Monarchs “floating through your hometown,” Nirenberg said. The same is true for Mexico and Canada, “and here we are once again the gateway to North America, not just for humans, but also for all these important species as part of our ecosystem,” he added.

Many risks confront Monarchs in the wild. The threatened low temperatures of early morning Tuesday in San Antonio – predicted in the mid-50s – would render the butterflies unable to take wing due to the cold air, for example. Such immobility renders them helpless against hungry predators.

Likewise, temperatures over 100 degrees also make flight difficult, so migratory patterns must be maintained, despite increasing loss of habitat and milkweed for growth and sustenance.

From a peak measured population of 1 billion butterflies at the wintering grounds in south central Mexico, the Monarch population has declined to a figure as low as 33 million, Sommer said. The population grows and falls due to weather and other uncertainties, but hope maintains that awareness and habitat restoration and growth can change the pattern.

“We can all help the Monarch by planting native milkweed and nectar plants,” Sommer said, encouraging private citizens to join in the effort of creating habitat and sustenance that helps support Monarchs in their long journey of survival.

Monika Maeckle, director of the forthcoming  Monarch Butterfly & Pollinator Festival, which will take place at the Pearl Stable Oct. 20-22, recommended nectar plants such as buddleia, duranta, indigo spires, coneflowers, sunflowers, purple aster, almond verbena, devil’s trumpet, Mexican olive tree, esperanza, Pride of Barbados, and Texas lantana.

Sommer said she hopes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not have to list the Monarch as an endangered species when decision time arrives in June 2019. Conservation efforts like those of San Antonio and concerned citizens such as Hardberger and Maeckle might make the hope a reality.

Nirenberg thanked the many partners involved in backing his pledge recommitment, including the NWF, the River Authority, the San Antonio Zoo, the Texas Butterfly Ranch, and the Hardberger Conservancy.

“I’ll never look at a hamburger in the same way,” Nirenberg joked with Hardberger in an aside after the news conference.

Monarch enthusiasts’ hope is that more citizens will consider Monarch butterflies in a new way as well.

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