‘Monarch wrangler’ Laura Bush touts Texas efforts to save iconic butterfly

AUSTIN — To the lengthy list of titles bestowed upon former first lady Laura Bush, now add “monarch wrangler.” The butterfly, that is.

Bush — long a champion of conservation efforts — heralded that decidedly Texan honor on Tuesday as she touted a growing statewide partnership to preserve the migratory habitat of the increasingly threatened monarch butterfly.

The former first lady appeared at a corporate park in Austin to celebrate work by a defense contractor there to spruce up the campus with native Texas plants and other features that help the insect. That’s been a focus of Texan by Nature, a group founded by Bush.

And Bush said it’s important for all Texans — at work or at home — to do what they can to support the butterfly and its kindred.

“These butterflies and their fellow pollinators, like bumblebees and hummingbirds, are not just lovely to look at,” she said. “They are absolutely essential for all Texas inhabitants, wildlife and citizens alike.”

The instantly recognizable, orange-and-black monarch butterflies fly through Texas twice a year.

But the migrating monarch population has dropped by 80 percent over the last decade, down from an estimated 1 billion butterflies. Among the biggest factors driving that reduction is the destruction of its habitat and, in particular, the milkweed plant.

The impact of diminished monarch populations could be far-reaching.

“We couldn’t have agriculture without pollinators like butterflies and bees,” Bush said.

For the former first lady, this kind of push has long been personal.

Bush made native grasses and wildflowers central to the 15-acre park created at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in University Park. And the West Texas native sought to take a conservation-minded approach at the Bushes’ ranch in Crawford.

One designation the Bushes recently earned at the ranch is that of “monarch wrangler.”

That’s a program that Texan by Nature is pushing for residents all across Texas. It’s a relatively simple process for creating monarch habitats. Steps can include planting native milkweed plants, creating a water source and removing invasive plants.

To spread the word, Bush is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Part of the goal is to recruit businesses — such as BAE Systems in Austin — to the cause. And while a defense contractor in an office park might not seem like a natural pair for butterfly recovery efforts, Bush said that actually proved the point.

“Watching wildlife return and flourish on a corporate campus shows that no matter where you live or work, you can make a positive difference for the future of our environment,” she said.