By Jamil Oakford/managing editor

Ecosystem Project strives to keep monarch butterflies from becoming extinct

A South Campus group wants to make the terrain butterfly-friendly again and needs the community’s help to do it.

South’s Ecosystem Project kicked off at the campus’ Bioblitz Earth Day event April 18 and focuses on an endangered butterfly species that has dramatically declined in recent years.

“Populations of monarchs have decreased by approximately 90 percent in the last two decades,” South learning lab manager Gabrielle Raymond said. “Monarchs are facing extinction within the next five to 10 years.”

These numbers are reflected by the National Wildlife Federation’s 2017 numbers for the decline of monarch butterflies in North America. This is a species the environment can’t afford to lose, Raymond said.

South became involved with helping the crippled butterfly population after campus president Peter Jordan was approached by faculty, students and staff to sign a pledge to dedicate some of the campus’ sprawling land to help preserve the endangered species.

“He stepped up to sign the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor [Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price] Monarch Pledge on Earth Day 2016,” French assistant professor Floreen Henry said. “That’s really how this started.”

The ecosystem project is a multi-initiative plan. At the moment, it’s in the first stage to launch a project on campus and set up a partnership with iNaturalist, an organization that helps people connect with nature and catalog species they observe.

Henry said she believes it is the campus’ and the college’s duty to provide this project. Not only does it help preserve an endangered species, but it works to inform the community.

“We do what we do best: Our mission at TCC is to educate,” she said. “That’s why we are open to the area community.”

The waystation for the butterflies and the conservation areas for no-mow initiatives so natural wildflowers and vegetation can grow are open to the community 24/7 for that reason alone, Henry said.

Raymond said South is perfectly set up for an ecosystem project.

“South Campus truly is its own ecosystem,” she said. “The plant, animal and insect species that call South Campus their home should be nurtured, just like the students, faculty and staff who come here every day.”

Understanding the surrounding ecosystem on campus could help others do their part in preserving such space, Raymond said.

While she is doing it for the same reasons, she said she had a personal attachment to the monarch butterfly. She was a little kid growing up in the Midwest, a migratory path for monarchs on their way to Mexico, Raymond said.

“My mother and I planted milkweed for a monarch garden,” she said. “I have fond memories of sitting in that garden and watching hundreds of monarchs move through on their journey south. Such sights are rare these days.”

These butterflies have taught Raymond the value of nature, spurring not only activism for conservation, but in other areas too, she said.

“I am a Buddhist, vegetarian and an animal rights activist because I now understand that literally all species — from plants, to insects, to animals and human beings — depend upon one another for survival,” she said.

Butterflies, in particular, play a key role in ecosystems for plants and animals alike. They are considered pollinators, which play a vital role in plant reproduction.

Pollinators go from one plant to the next, gathering the pollen to directly spread to other plants. Without pollinators, plants have to rely on the wind and other animals to make sure a plant is fertilized.

“Without pollinators, plants cannot reproduce, and I mean no plants can reproduce,” Raymond said.

This is a major problem that not everybody understands at first, she said.

“When we talk about monarchs, people immediately think, ‘It’s just flowers, so what’s the big deal?’” she said. “Monarchs and bees, two of the main pollinators, are crucial to the food supply of animals and human beings.”

Raymond wants students to start getting involved. One way is by joining the SOS Monarchs Action group on campus. Planting milkweed on campus is another way to help as the plant attracts the monarchs.

Raymond said she hopes these initiatives will not only help the ailing butterfly population, but that students have fun.

“The more help, the better,” she said.