Commons Ford Prairie Designated as a Monarch Watch “Monarch Waystation”

Commons Ford Prairie was recently designated a “Monarch Waystation” by the organization, Monarch Watch, a nonprofit educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.  Monarch Watch has one of the most widely known and respected “citizen scientist” monarch habitat projects in the U.S., with initiatives directed toward monarch tagging programs to track the insect’s migratory pathway.

The actions at Commons Ford Prairie support the City of Austin’s own initiatives aimed at helping this species in peril. In 2015, Austin signed the Monarch Mayoral Pledge through the National Wildlife Federation and is in the “Leadership Circle.”

Additionally, the City Council passed a resolution in May of 2015 to implement as best as possible plans to increase milkweed, the only plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs, on city property.

The reason for the concern about the iconic insect is its decline over the past 20 years. Monarch Joint Venture, another organization devoted to the recovery of the species, provides data each year on the approximate number of the butterflies at their overwintering site in Central Mexico. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is exploring the possibility of listing the species as endangered.

The Commons Ford Prairie Committee is committed to creating and maintaining habitat for native birds as well as other native pollinator species important to the health of the prairie.

Additionally, in April 2017, Commons Ford Prairie received a grant for free milkweed plugs from Monarch Watch as part of their annual grant program (value of ~$1500 to City of Austin).

Milkweed is the host plant for monarch butterflies. Part of the reason for the decline of the monarch butterfly is decreasing milkweed habitat and range. There are 36 species of milkweed in Texas (Texas Parks and Wildlife), and four species found in the park.  One species, Asclepias asperula (antelope horns milkweed), is
by far the one most suited. The committee applied and received a grant of 500 free antelope horns milkweed plugs. The plants were provided by Monarch Watch through their nation-wide “Bring Back the Monarchs” Program. The mission of this program is to address changes in agricultural practices and development which decimated monarch habitat and to restore habitats for monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife. The goals of this program are to restore 20 milkweed species, used by monarch caterpillars as food, to their native ranges throughout the United States and to encourage the planting of nectar-producing native flowers that support adult monarchs and other pollinators.

To participate in Monarch Watch’s Milkweed Restoration Program, applicants for restoration must demonstrate that they have a land management plan and that other nectar sources are either pre-existing or are included in the new planting. Commons Ford Prairie is a very good example of the conditions for which the program is looking. For more information on Monarch Watch visit www.monarchwatch.org.

Two members of the Commons Ford Prairie Committee, as well as one other volunteer, planted the milkweed plugs at several locations in the prairie in May. As a result of good rains in late May and early June, the plugs are thriving.

In 2016, the Commons Ford Prairie Organization merged with Travis Audubon Society to ensure the prairie’s long-term sustainability.

Today, the 40-acre restored native prairie at Commons Ford Metropolitan Park supports an amazing diversity of wildlife and grassland birds. The prairie explodes in color throughout the spring and early summer and is teeming with hundreds of species of birds, butterflies, insects and other wildlife throughout the year.

Much remains to be done to combat a potential re-infestation of invasive plants, as was the case before restoration, and to augment growth through further native seed plantings. Through its Commons Ford Prairie Committee, Travis Audubon Society conducts bird, plant—and, in future—pollinator events at the prairie on a regular basis. Please consider visiting the prairie and supporting the continuing conservation efforts.

The next Commons Ford Prairie Bird Walk will take place on August 19 led by Shelia Hargis. Sign up here!

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