Laura Bush in Austin to promote recovery of the monarch butterfly

Laura Bush walks through flower garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (KXAN Photo/Natalie Ferrari)
Laura Bush walks through flower garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (KXAN Photo/Natalie Ferrari)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Over the last two decades, the monarch butterfly population has been on a gradual decline, which is why former First Lady Laura Bush met with scientists and experts from across the country on Wednesday to discuss ways to enhance and recover the species.

Texan By Nature organized the 2-day Monarch Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Texan By Nature is a community-run conservation effort, founded by Bush with the aim of preserving Texas’ environment for future generations.

“As children, when you’re in biology class, does everybody study the life cycle of the butterfly? They really do. So that creates a bond from childhood, and all the way up — of understanding and affection for this particular species,” says Katharine Armstrong, the founding president of the group.

It’s a bond that has Armstrong and Bush passionate in conserving various habitats and resources of the monarch butterfly, especially since it’s the loss of habitat that has contributed to nearly a 90 percent decrease of the monarch population in the last 20 years.

“The beautiful monarch butterfly is a symbol of hope that connects people and cultures all the way from Mexico to Canada,” Bush said, adding one of the greatest challenges is restoring quality Monarch habitats along their migration route.

However, Texas and Oklahoma play a major role in funneling the species across the continent, which is why it’s critical for landowners in this south-central region to do their part in this initiative.

“Knowing that the species used to be so common and now has experience significant decline, we need to make sure that we do everything that we can right now to protect this phenomenon for generations to come,” says Wendy Caldwell, coordinator of the Monarch Joint Venture, a national conservation partnership.

Caldwell tells KXAN that a few things we can do to help revive this population include adding milkweeds and nectar plants to our backyard gardens, ultimately creating more habitats so that they can thrive during their trip.

The goal is to increase the monarch population by at least 50 percent by 2020.

“We’re aiming to be confident that in the case of a severe weather event or something similar that might wipe out a large portion of that population… that they could recover at that point,” Caldwell says.

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