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TxDOT registers miles of roadside land to help save monarchs
(Texas Department of Transporation)

The Texas Department of Transportation is dedicating over a million acres of land, including 73,038 miles of center lanes, to the conservation of the iconic monarch butterfly.


The Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conservation Agreement for Energy and Transportation Lands by the University of Illinois-Chicago is accepting almost 450,000 acres in the agreement, which was created to make right-of-ways and other lands a habitat for monarchs.

The project was initiated by the University of Illinois-Chicago through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region. The university's program manager, Iris Caldwell, said that TxDOT will help bring others to participate in the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, or CCAA.

"TxDOT's early participation in the CCAA has helped us make huge strides towards the conservation targets laid out in the agreement and build momentum with other transportation agencies and energy companies interested in supporting the monarch butterfly," Caldwell said. "TXDOT is a natural leader for this work given their well-established wildflower program and key position along the monarch flyway."

Monarchs, which bring their bright orange hues to Texas during their fall and spring migrations, have lost about 90% of their population in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in two decades. Milkweed, which serves as an egg-laying site and caterpillar food for monarchs, has been on the decline alongside other native plants they need for nectar.

The butterflies are Texas' state insect and will be treated as such as TxDOT works to support and grow milkweed and other necessary plants. The department will work to eliminate threats to the species on transportation corridors by creating and enhancing habitats, conducting brush control and conservation mowing and applying herbicides to unwanted plant populations. They will also continue their regular vegetation management and plant nectar-producing wildflowers along the corridors.

Under the agreement, energy and transportation-related companies will use their right-of-ways and other nearby lands as a habitat for the butterflies. In return, the 16 current partners will receive a certificate of inclusion and receive "regulatory assurance and predictability under the Endangered Species Act."

While monarchs are not officially endangered, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in 2020 that the species will be regarded as endangered or threatened once higher-priority species are listed.

TxDOT's efforts will undoubtedly help other pollinators as well, said James Stevenson, TxDOT maintenance division director.

"TxDOT's rights-of-way are excellent habitat for wildlife including pollinators such as the monarch butterfly as well as bats, bees, birds, and many more," Stevenson said. "Since milkweed is a crucial host plant for monarchs, TxDOT fully supports milkweed growth on state rights-of-way. Thousands of acres of milkweed appear on rights-of-way every year due to TxDOT's longstanding wildflower and pollinator programs."

For more information on the agreement and conservation efforts, check out the Service's Save the Monarch website.

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