Move over, San Antonio. There’s another Mayor’s Monarch Champion City in the state – McAllen.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, citing San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor as “an inspiration,” became the second mayor in the country to make his city a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Monarch Butterfly Champion City.

Darling made the announcement this week at the September McAllen City Commission Meeting, where he committed to all 24 action items recommended by the NWF’s Mayor Monarch Pledge initiative. Darling also declared Sept. 12 “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Day in the City of McAllen.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Courtesy photo
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Photo courtesy of the McCallen Mayor’s Office.

“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.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling announces McAllen's status as a Monarch Butterfly Champion City. Courtesy photo.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling announces McAllen’s status as a Monarch Butterfly Champion City. Briana Deleon, Quinta Mazatlan Volunteer of the Year, dons her wings to commemorate the occasion. Photo courtesy of the McCallen Mayor’s Office.

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 country. 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.

McAllen joins San Antonio as a National Wildlife Federation Monarch Butterfly Champion City. Courtesy graphic
McAllen joins San Antonio as a National Wildlife Federation Monarch Butterfly Champion City. Graphic courtesy of the McCallen Mayor’s Office.

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.”

Taylor signed the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Mayor’s Monarch Pledge last December, making San Antonio the first city in the country to become a Monarch Champion in the national campaign to encourage mayors and local governments to increase Monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat.

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. “San Antonio definitely served as an inspiration and a natural next step would be for both mayors to share ideas.”

“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. To be part of the pledge, Mayors must agree 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, 185 entities across North America have committed to create habitat and encourage their citizens to do the same.

For those unaware, Monarch butterflies migrate 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. At the beginning and end of their journey, they pass through the “Texas funnel,” making our part of the world especially strategic to their migration. San Antonio lies in the heart of that migratory path and often serves as the first stop on the migration north in the spring and as the last stop in the funnel south in the fall.

Monarch migration map
Monarch butterflies migrate through the Texas Funnel enroute to and from their roosting grounds in Mexico in the spring and fall. Graphic by Nicolas Rivard

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.

Top image: Monarch butterfly on Goldenrod at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas. Photo courtesy of National Butterfly Center.

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Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...