There’s a new Monarch Butterfly Champion City in the Lone Star State: McAllen.
For the past 10 months, San Antonio ranked as the only National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Monarch Butterfly Champion City. San Antonio Mayor Taylor signed the NWF’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge last December, committing to all 24 action items recommended in the national campaign to encourage mayors and local governments to increase Monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat.
But that unique status is now behind us. Last week, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, citing San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor as “an inspiration,” became the second mayor in the country to step up to the plate and make pollinators a hometown priority.
Darling made the announcement at the September McAllen City Commission Meeting. Darling also declared Sept. 12 “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Day in the City of McAllen.”
“Mayor Darling has made a major commitment to help save this iconic, declining species in a city that sits right in the middle of the Monarch butterflies’ migratory flyway,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, National Wildlife Federation senior director of community wildlife, in response to the news.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley’s McAllen-Edinburg-Mission triangle has long been a place with much wildlife diversity due to its location at the intersection of myriad ecosystems that host more than 300 species of butterflies and 520 species of birds.
Bird- and butterfly-viewing destinations such as Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, the National Butterfly Center, the annual Texas Butterfly Festival in Mission, and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo County draw nature lovers from all over. The City of McAllen attributes an annual $460 million in eco-tourism to its “natural beauty and sunny and temperate year-round climate,” according to a press release.
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor welcomed McAllen to the elite club of NWF Monarch Champion Cites.
“Like us, McAllen obviously understands the significance of helping protect and promote our State Insect,” Taylor said. “I’d like to issue a challenge for all other mayors in Texas to sign the pledge and help make us the first Monarch Champion State in the U.S.”
In an email exchange, Darling gave special credit to Colleen Hook, director of Quinta Mazatlan, a McAllen wildlife sanctuary that promotes knowledge about birds, plants, and environmental stewardship in South Texas, for “leading the effort for the Mayor.” Hook became aware of the challenge through press coverage of San Antonio’s pledge, the Mayor’s office stated via email.
“We have a big responsibility in South Texas to enhance the migratory ‘Texas Funnel’ used by butterflies, birds and many other creatures of the land,” said Hook.
Hook refers to the remarkable “Texas funnel,”the passage through which Monarch butterflies migrate coming and going each spring and fall over multiple generations, moving from Mexico to Canada and back before settling into their roosts for the winter in the mountainous forests west of Mexico City.
“We welcome anybody else trying to help Monarchs,” said North American Butterfly Association President Jeffrey Glassberg, who also is founder of the National Butterfly Center (NBC) in Mission. The NBC was recently featured in a Texas Monthly article titled “Mission’s Quest to Become the Butterfly Capital of the World.”
Status as a Monarch Butterfly Champion City doesn’t come easy. Municipalities must agree to adopt all 24 specific actions suggested by the NWF to support the declining Monarch butterfly migration and other pollinator habitat.
Participation in the pledge requires at a minimum for Mayors to execute three of the 24 items; to be in the “leadership circle” they must commit to eight; to become a Monarch Champion, they must do all 24. Actions range from citizen science projects and installing a pollinator garden at City Hall or another highly visible public space, to hosting a butterfly festival and changing landscape ordinances and city mowing schedules.
Since the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge was launched in September of last year, 190 entities across North America have committed to create habitat and encourage their citizens to do the same.
In recent years, the Monarch butterfly migration has declined dramatically– by 80% from the 21-year average across North America. Scientists attribute the decline to habitat loss, the increase in genetically modified crops in their primary breeding zone in the Midwest, increased pesticide use, illegal logging in Mexico, and climate change.
In August of 2014, several organizations submitted a petition to list the Monarch butterfly as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The petition is currently under review. In May of 2015, President Obama announced a National Pollinator Strategy that addressed not only the decline of Monarch butterflies, but the demise of bees. The 58-page document also committed the federal government to restore seven million acres of pollinator habitat over the next five years, with a special focus on the IH-35 corridor.
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