El Paso, Texas
Every year, thousands of monarchs migrate through Fort Cavazos, one of the largest military bases, located in the southern core of the monarch conservation unit. In the last decade, monarch populations have been on the decline and are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Fort Cavazos Adaptive and Integrative Management (AIM) program focuses on proactively managing at-risk species that have the potential of impacting mission readiness if species are listed under the ESA. Research and conservation efforts carried out by the AIM program are streamlining efforts based on the Texas Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife. The AIM program was successfully implemented in FY15 using a four-pronged approach:
The AIM Program is working with various organizations within the 218,000-acre Fort Cavazos area to coordinate research, monitoring, data sharing, educational outreach, and partnerships in pursuit of grassland bird and pollinator habitat conservation and restoration. Previous years research includes surveying ~350 sites and identifying butterflies, nectar sources, avian species, and conducting milkweed surveys. AIM successfully restored a 120-acre area that was inundated with invasive plant species.
The AIM team focuses its research on Mission Sensitive Species that have considerable gaps in data collection. Their goal is to fill in those gaps and have a robust knowledge of those species to limit any future military restrictions. Each fall the AIM team catches and tags migrating monarch butterflies passing through the installation. Since 2017, over 10,000 Monarchs Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) have been captured, tagged, and released using protocols supplied by Monarch Watch. Additional data collected during the tagging process: mass, wing condition, sex, behavior, and the nectar sources used during migration. Additionally, the team is partnered with Monarch Joint Venture and completes annual surveys during the spring and fall monarch butterfly migration using the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Protocol. In 2017, the AIM team conducted over 450 milkweed stem count surveys in Fort Cavazos grasslands, documenting seven milkweed (Asclepias) species.
The AIM program also focuses research on at-risk avian species. The team conducts Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) spring and fall point counts to obtain a better understanding of where they occur and what predictive variables might influence their occupancy in certain areas. AIM has implemented the Monitoring of Owls and Nightjars (MOON) program to survey nocturnal species that are hard to detect with traditional daylight surveys. Nightjars are an insect eating species and are in steep decline range wide; the species has the potential of becoming a mission sensitive species very soon.
AIM completed a 120-acre restoration project focused on restoring an area encroached with invasive plant species. The project began in 2018 and was used as a matching contribution for the Compatible Lands Foundation (CLF). CLF was awarded a grant through the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The funds are being used to enhance monarch breeding and migratory habitat on or adjacent to four U.S. military bases. The project’s total cost with matching funds is estimated to be over $600,000. The AIM team also restored a ~1.5-acre space that now includes a demonstration grassland, pollinator garden, meditation area, greenhouse, and walking trail with educational signage. The pollinator garden serves as a wonderful spot for the public to visit and has been used for many outreach events.
The AIM program impacts thousands of local children through outreach. Every April, Fort Cavazos hosts one of the largest Earth Day events in Central Texas (Fort Cavazos Earth Fest). This event brings together several schools from Killeen ISD to showcase the installation’s dedication to conservation. The AIM team plays an active role by providing an interactive learning station and outdoor classroom that will be used to show youth how native plants are beneficial to monarch butterflies and other vital pollinators species. The team hosts and participates in several outreach events throughout the year with the goal of teaching school groups, soldiers, and the public about environmental conservation. Since 2016, the AIM team has hosted an annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) event on the installation for the public and a way for the public to participate in citizen science research with the National Audubon Society. The CBC is the longest running citizen science event in the country. The team invites biologists and the public to each bird observed in one day within a designated 15-mile diameter circle. The data collected is sent to Audubon and included in their analysis providing important information on species trends over a long period of time.
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