Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman commemorated Earth Day last Thursday by signing the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Mayors' Monarch Pledge, joining a group of mayors around the U.S. who have committed to aiding the monarch butterfly and other pollinators.
Among the action items Zimmerman has chosen for the city to focus on are creating a monarch-friendly garden at a culturally significant community location, displaying educational signage at its monarch gardens and changing the city’s mowing schedules to allow milkweed to grow unfettered.
“I’m a big outdoors guy,” Zimmerman said. “Me and my family, we’re outdoors people. It only makes sense for cities to embrace this. Everything is linked to nature. We have an opportunity because of the way our park system is set up.”
The monarch butterfly population was around 1 billion in 1996, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
According to a report from Texas A&M University’s Craig Wilson, senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education, the number of monarch butterflies was slashed in half from 300 million in 2019 to about 141.5 million in 2020.
NWF cites the loss of habitat due to cropland conversion, urban development and agricultural practices among the chief factors for the monarch’s significant decline.
According to a news release from city spokesperson Doug Adolph, Sugar Land is “now part of an expanding North American network of cities” working to create a monarch-friendly “habitat in public parks, public landscaping, roadsides, medians, backyard gardens and open spaces throughout the entire community.”
Zimmerman said one of the migration routes for monarch butterflies follows along Brazos River Park, adjacent to the Brazos River.
“We already plant native wildflower seeds out there,” Zimmerman said. “We can adjust that seed to plant more nectar seeds and milkweed and adjust the moving schedules so we don’t mow down the milkweed.”
The butterfly garden the city’s parks and recreation department has in the works, Zimmerman said, will be a welcoming habitat for other varieties of butterflies in addition to monarchs.
He also encouraged residents to plant milkweed and other pollinated plants to attract butterflies in their gardens.
“Our parks staff is very progressive, and the City of Sugar Land is very progressive, so this makes a lot of sense for us,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the city has been active in pursuing grants from Texas Parks and Wildlife in the past, and if federal or state funding were to become available for cities who take the monarch pledge or follow other sustainable steps to preserve their habitat, that the city would apply for such funds in the future.
“I would think we’d go after it,” Zimmerman said. “That wouldn’t even be a question in my mind.”