Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): golden cheeked warbler

Monarch butterflies get help from Texas ranch

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed! growing at Shield Ranch.

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed growing at Shield Ranch.

A few weeks ago, I visited Shield Ranch, a 6,000-acre property devoted to responsible cattle management and wildlife conservation. I made the visit to the ranch – less than 20 miles west of my home in Austin – to test a new tool being designed to more accurately assess habitat for the monarch butterfly.

Standing in a field of wildflowers with a team of scientists, we used the monarch butterfly habitat quantification tool to measure vegetation and determine what monarch habitat was available on the property. We’ve used similar habitat quantification tools for other at-risk wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse, but this was the first time we tested a tool for monarch butterfly habitat.

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Monarchs still need milkweed, and farmers are growing it

Rain builds over a field near Lubbock, Texas. Photo credit: Flickr user Craig O'Neal

Rain builds over a field near Lubbock, Texas. Photo credit: Flickr user Craig O'Neal

I am watching the rain pour down outside my window as I write this blog. El Niño is once again giving central and north Texas a good drenching, which has brought with it some severe and deadly flood conditions. But the rains are a welcome sight to Texas farmers and ranchers who have become all too used to drought and wildfire conditions. And they aren’t the only ones benefitting from the heavy rains.

All this wet weather has resulted in a spectacular display of spring wildflowers, including vast expanses of milkweed and nectar plants that the iconic North American monarch butterflies need to survive and thrive.

Recent headlines suggest that milkweed loss is just one of several threats to monarch populations, with drought, habitat fragmentation and reduced availability of nectar plants also influencing the species’ decline. In reality, all of these threats are interconnected in a recipe that could spell disaster for the monarch. 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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Ranchers and conservationists step up to avert listing of sage-grouse

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

The decision whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act was one of the biggest listing decisions of our time.

Thanks to unprecedented public-private partnerships among ranchers, energy developers, conservationists and states, we now have the groundwork to guide future management of our nation’s wildlife and working landscapes.

The “not warranted” decision sends a strong signal that investments in conservation are making a difference, providing the catalyst for a new approaches and a different kind of politics.

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Operation Warbler: Fort Hood and local ranchers team up to save bird

Dr. Gene Murph stands in front of prime golden-cheeked warbler habitat on his Texas ranch

Dr. Gene Murph stands in front of prime golden-cheeked warbler habitat on his Texas ranch

I’m going to take you back to 2005, to a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, where Dr. Gene Murph operates an 80-head cattle operation on 1,300 acres of rangeland.

The ranch is vast, with rolling hills and wooded ravines. The only sounds on the ranch are those of cattle mooing in the pastures and birds trilling in the trees. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the signature call of the golden-cheeked warbler. If you look closely enough, you can spot the bird’s sunshine-yellow face.

The golden-cheeked warbler was listed as an endangered species in 1990, making Dr. Murph’s ranch a vital stronghold for subpopulations, which nest at select sites scattered throughout 33 counties in central Texas.

Another nearby stronghold for the bird is the Fort Hood Army Base, only a few miles down the road from Dr. Murph’s ranch and home to the largest known population of golden-cheeked warblers. Read More »

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We can have food security and a healthy environment

child eating cornThe way we produce food is getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. If current projections hold, we’ll have 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050 – 2 billion more than we have today.

Throughout history, when we’ve needed to expand food production, we’ve gone to nature’s vast storehouse and made withdrawals. In doing so, we’ve filled wetlands, dried up rivers, degraded habitat, and polluted our air and water.

We’ve already drawn down nature’s account to dangerously low levels, and we still need to produce more.

If we’re going to meet growing needs for food and water, we’re going to have to do it in ways that not only stop harming the environment, but actually improve the ecosystems that serve us. Business as usual just isn’t going to cut it.

Farmers lead the way

During the past decade, we’ve been in quiet conversations with farmers and ranchers about how to facilitate this transformation. As we’ve walked their land, we’ve seen some encouraging things. Read More »

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