The Big Thicket Biosphere Reserve (Biosphere) is a nonprofit organization established to support conservation in the Big Thicket in southeast Texas. In 1981, the United Nations’ Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) Program designated the Texas Big Thicket as a World Biosphere Site, citing its distinctive biodiversity as deserving of conservation. This certification remained with the National Park Service for many years until the agency began the process to defer oversight of the 50-plus Biospheres nationwide. The possibility of decertifying the Texas Big Thicket as a special international place hastened local efforts to raise awareness of its tremendous biodiversity, scientific research importance, and deep-regional history.
In 2020, the Big Thicket Biosphere formed as a community-based conservation organization. The Biosphere organization puts people at the center of its operations with community-based conservation. Its mission is to reconnect people and nature by developing diverse partnerships to promote sustainable economies, protect natural and cultural resources, and create a legacy of local environmental stewardship. Big Thicket Biosphere Reserve is also a Texan by Nature Conservation Partner.
Project Description & History
One of nature’s marvels and the state butterfly of Texas, the monarch butterfly faces an uncertain future with the decline of its migratory populations, restricted range, and reduced habitat quality. Monarchs travel 2,000 miles annually from central Mexico to the US – Canada border frequenting southeast Texas twice in migration coming and going. Once prolific in number, monarch populations have declined in recent years leaving them in danger of extinction.
The Big Thicket Biosphere Monarch Butterfly Project proposes to elevate butterfly numbers by improving the habitat that sustains migrating monarchs. The primary goal is to produce butterfly gardens attractive to pollinating insects and community members. The Big Thicket Biosphere covers a 6,000-square-mile multi-county, a multi-community region that is an integral part of the Texas Coastal Monarch Migration pathway. Biosphere proposes to partner with a number of communities in shared conservation to develop pollinator gardens to enhance butterfly habitats.
The project mission is twofold:
enhance and restore monarch milkweed vegetation in breeding grounds
secure future propagation efforts through community engagement for a resilient migratory flyway in the Big Thicket Biosphere.
Planting a monarch-friendly habitat involves planting healthy milkweed plugs and pollinator plants in migration gardens. Our objective is to develop a community-wide sense of stewardship for the resilience of the monarch environment. The project will restore monarch habitat by propagating milkweed and planting other pollinator species on public and private properties in Hardin, Jefferson, and Tyler Counties.
The Big Thicket reflects a convergence of ecosystems in a complex mosaic of 8 to 10 distinct environmental zones. These are ancient environs with 10,000-year-old remnant forests, fragile ecosystems, and the sensitive area is recognized worldwide as a special place, or a Biosphere in need of conservation. To supplement National Park Service resources, the biosphere team represents an important public-private partnership in conservation. The Biosphere relies on volunteers and engaging others in planting and propagation, broadening the overall conservation message.
The Biosphere Monarch Butterfly conservation project proposes to positively impact environmental conditions for the butterfly and other co-occupants of the flyway. The State of Texas recognizes the value of regional environmental improvement projects. Preserving and conserving the monarch population provides vast economic benefits, for example, when combined with tourist interests. The Biosphere region is a special niche for birding given its geographical location where ecotourists can travel a loop from coastal to bayou and finally, forest birds. Monarch flyways overlap bird migratory routes or the flyway that Audubon Texas estimates to draw nearly $2 billion annually by visiting bird watchers. Enhancing monarch environs has untapped economic potential for southeast Texas.