Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): Texas

Unlikely allies are crowdsourcing funding and habitat to save the monarch butterfly

The monarch butterfly has a new chance at recovery, thanks to the launch of the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange and inspiring commitments from early participants.

The Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange is an innovative market-based program dedicated to restoring and conserving high-quality monarch habitat on America’s private working lands. It’s been dubbed an ‘Airbnb for butterflies’ because it’s the only program of its kind that can open the vast untapped potential of large-scale farms and ranches to make habitat available for monarchs at an unprecedented scale and pace.

[Tweet “Powerful partners have teamed up to launch a groundbreaking program to recover the monarch butterfly.”]

Studies estimate that the monarch’s population has declined by 95 percent since the 1980s, and the butterfly faces a June 2019 deadline for an Endangered Species Act listing decision.

To change the monarch’s trajectory and avoid the need for restrictive regulations that often accompany a listing, we need to restore millions of acres of native milkweed and wildflowers across the butterfly’s vast migration route, fast.

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From testing to launch: A new program for monarchs takes flight

Audrey applies the Habitat Quantification Tool to a potential restoration site, counting the number of milkweed and wildflower stems within a transect.

This spring, my colleagues and I visited three ranches in Texas to begin piloting the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, an emerging program that will help agricultural landowners contribute to monarch recovery.

Elm Ridge Ranch, Wagley Ranch and Shield Ranch will be among the first restoration projects conducted this year to improve ranchlands and create valuable monarch habitat. We will continue to work closely with these landowners to hone the program and ensure it works for monarchs, pollinators and people alike.

Already, we’ve had the opportunity to gain valuable insights, including how to improve habitat quantification and how to inspire enrollment.

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To help the environment, we must first help people

Author Audrey Archer explores her natural surroundings and assesses need for conservation practices

Now living in Austin, Texas where diverse wildlands are numerous and easily accessible, Audrey takes any opportunity she can get to put on her hiking boots and explore her natural surroundings. She also volunteers with the City of Austin to give guided hikes on preserves. Credit: Rob Binder

I grew up in the high and dry panhandle plains of Texas, where trees are scarce, wind is always blowing, and the smell of feedlots lingers in the air. Needless to say, I was not overly inspired by my surroundings – at least not at the time I lived there.

Had I not traveled with my family growing up, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Throughout these travels, I became enraptured by the biodiversity and lushness of other ecosystems and felt compelled to learn as much as I could about them.

But the stark contrast between some of the natural ecosystems and working landscapes I was exposed to led me to develop a pretty pessimistic view of humans’ impact on the environment. Surely, there had to be a better way of balancing human needs for things like food, water and shelter with nature’s needs.

Determined to tackle this problem, I got my Master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and took a job at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where I had heard that scientists and economists were developing incentive programs for landowners to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore habitat for at-risk wildlife.

Little did I know my worldview was about to be turned upside down.

Putting people first Read More »

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Ranchlands: An untapped reservoir of monarch butterfly habitat

The monarch migration path through central Texas is often referred to as the "Texas Funnel." Source: Journey North

The monarch migration path through central Texas is often referred to as the “Texas Funnel.” Source: Journey North

As monarch butterflies have returned to Texas on their fall migration south, so have my colleagues and I to Shield Ranch for another round of field testing for the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, a new conservation program we expect to launch in key states in 2017.

Texas offers a lot of potential habitat for monarchs, being a critical layover on the species’ annual migrations north and south, and having a number of landowners willing and eager to find a solution for the iconic butterfly’s decline.

During our visit to Shield Ranch, we saw dozens of monarchs and other butterflies, as an unusually high amount of rain in August sparked a profusion of fall wildflowers in central Texas. With targeted conservation funding through the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, we can make rapid progress on the ground. Read More »

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What if God wants the lesser prairie-chicken to go extinct?

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

A version of this piece previously ran as an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

A few years ago, I was invited by Texas farmer David Cleavinger to visit his family’s farm near Amarillo. This was during a period of time when my organization, Environmental Defense Fund, was deeply involved in conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken, a colorful bird whose habitat is in decline throughout its five-state range, which includes the panhandle of Texas.

David picked me up at the airport and asked if we could make a quick stop on the way to his farm. That stop turned out to be at local radio station KGNC, where David had arranged for me to go on air and talk about wildlife conservation with a particular focus on the local implications for efforts to revive the lesser prairie-chicken.

I agreed to join the show with some trepidation, but it quickly subsided as we got into a lively discussion with the host, James Hunt, and several listeners. Toward the end of my appearance, a caller asked a surprising and provocative question – What if God wants the prairie-chicken to go extinct? Read More »

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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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