Monarch butterflies, with their archetypal orange, black and white wings, are a part of nature’s wonder as they usher in the start of spring. Perhaps even more fascinating than their winged artistry is the monarch’s cycle of life. Not one monarch will live long enough to complete its migration from wintering grounds in Mexico to summertime destinations in the United States and Canada. In fact, the annual trip takes up to five generations.
There has been a striking decline in the number of monarchs making the yearly trek— the monarch population fell nearly 97 percent between 1996 and 2013, from one billion to just 35 million. Bad weather and deforestation are a few of the reasons. The plight of the monarchs concerns Jose Alducin, a UH Honors College student with aspirations to work on environmental policy.
“With all the development around the world, you see species very important to the ecosystem just disappear,” said Alducin. “It’s important to take action to protect them.”
Alducin led a group of UH Honors College students to build pollinator gardens to attract the monarchs and other pollinators. It is part of a project called Community Greens that includes various farming and gardening initiatives. Thanks to the efforts of dozens of Honors College student volunteers studying community health, milkweed and native wildflowers now flourish in newly constructed gardens at the Houston Health Department.
Houston Wilderness, a nonprofit on the forefront of ecological and environmental policy issues in the region, funds the gardens, with plans to build dozens more around the city. The effort is vital for ecosystems and agriculture because 35 percent of food production nationwide, over $500 billion a year, relies on butterflies, bees and birds to pollinate.
“Texas is a critical link in the migration,” said Deborah January-Bevers, president and CEO of Houston Wilderness. “The UH students have been amazing. We provided the supplies and dirt, and they got it in the ground.”