Growing Returns

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Why two California farms give me hope for the monarch butterfly

A monarch caterpillar eats showy milkweed at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California.

A monarch caterpillar eats showy milkweed at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California.

The western population of monarch butterflies is in steep decline, according to a recent study released by the Xerces Society, having fallen 74 percent in the past two decades, from roughly 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 300,000 butterflies in 2015.

Studies have documented the drop in eastern populations over the past several years, but this is the first time we’ve been able to understand the risks to the western population, which resides west of the Rocky Mountains.

The population is struggling because of development around the forested groves where they spend winters along the California coast and in Mexico, and because of pesticide applications that kill vital milkweed habitat. These threats and the population decline are significant, having the potential to influence a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision in coming years if the situation fails to turn around soon.

I’ve feared for many years that the monarch might reach the point that it will require protections under the Endangered Species Act – a last resort that signals a dire state for the iconic and beloved species. But a recent trip to California gave me great hope that it’s not too late to change the monarch’s trajectory.  Read More »

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My life’s work: Building strategies for ag and industry to protect wildlife

Could the monarch butterfly be the next passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

Could the monarch butterfly face the same plight of the passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

When I think about what motivates me as a conservationist, I often reflect on the bird species we’ve lost – the Carolina parakeet, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon.

I remember these species when I work to create pathways to prevent extinction for today’s at-risk wildlife – the lesser prairie-chicken, the golden-cheeked warbler and the greater sage-grouse.

But it’s not just the birds that inspire me. It’s also the people.

My role as director of conservation strategy and habitat markets often requires me to cultivate partnerships with ranchers, farmers, oilmen and large multinational corporations. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with this diverse set of stakeholders to find common ground. Sure, we all have different interests driving us, but I am steadfast in my belief that we can protect natural resources, while at the same time enabling the responsible production of food, fuel and fiber. Read More »

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Program helps Texas ranchers save endangered bird, but more conservation is needed

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Earlier this month, I helped organize the 2016 Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo Symposium in Austin, Texas. The Symposium was attended by nearly 200 scientists, consultants, academics, regulators and interested citizens from as far away as Wisconsin and southern Mexico – all convening to review and discuss the science of the two species of interest.

Despite a recent petition to the contrary, the science on the golden-cheeked warbler is clear: habitat for the bird continues to disappear and the species warrants its endangered status.

We need more conservation, not less

A petition filed by Texans for Positive Economic Policy claims that there is ample population and habitat for the warbler, and that its status is inhibiting development and thereby the economy. There are two reasons why this claim is unfounded. Read More »

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