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Grant to help National Butterfly Center save monarchs

The National Butterfly Center will use a Monarch conservation grant to reach out to the community to help create habitats to attract the state butterfly of Texas, starting with the city of Mission.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the center, said the grant allows for surveys of tens of thousands of acres of land in the National Wildlife Refuge. They’ll be looking for different species of milkweed, a plant known to feed monarchs, and collecting those seedpods.

20151009 MISSION National butterfly center grant 5188“Shrinking habitat and the disappearance of milkweed are contributing to a catastrophic decline in the species’ population in North America,” Wright said.

Through the nearly $200,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the center will gather milkweed seedpods to use in gardens across the county, specifically in Mission, Pharr, San Juan and Alamo. The center is matching the grant with more than $239,000, and the total project cost was budgeted at $438,638.

Wright said they’d start with the Mission Main Canal, which runs from the end of the National Butterfly Center’s property to the pump station on the Rio Grande.

The grant allows for planting along highways, railways and major thoroughfares, but Wright said the center is focusing on low-traffic areas. Mission City Manager Martin Garza said there are 12 or 13 sites the city has identified for gardens, including the Speer Memorial Library.

“Our project will create America’s southernmost monarch way station for butterflies departing the United States each fall and returning each spring, making Hidalgo County the last stop for refueling before the butterflies cross vast thorn scrub and agriculture lands that do not provide vital nourishment,” Wright said.

Over the next two years, she said the center will plant milkweed and nectar gardens across the area and hold community workshops on how the average gardener can create his or her own butterfly haven. The first workshop is scheduled for Oct. 17 with a group of more than 70 Girl Scouts.

Right now, Wright said, if gardeners wanted to plant milkweed, they’d have to go to a big-box store that sells plants from commercial growers who use systemic pesticides and herbicides. Those kill caterpillars and butterflies, which is the opposite of what the National Butterfly Center wants to do, she said. Plus, she said, one of the benefits of native plants is that they’re drought-hardy.

“We want to have enough seed that individual growers can grow clean, green milkweed for our monarchs,” she said.

One of the center’s partners, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District already has been working to put its lands to better use, developing vegetable and natural gardens at many of its campuses. Through the grant, 10 butterfly gardens will be planted around the district, said Allen Williams, landscape wildlife habitat specialist at the district.

“We’re shaping the way we change our curriculum to more flora and fauna specific to the Valley, and yet still tie it in to TEKS testing,” Williams said. “It is a little more of a challenge, but our kids are learning more about African savanna than they are about the native thorn bush that they’re living amongst, so we’re really trying to teach them about the eco systems here in the Valley, first, so they can better understand the eco systems on other continents.”

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