Awakening News at the Border: Photos of Butterfly Habitat At-Risk of Destruction by Border Wall

The signage in front of the Butterfly Center is inviting. Many Winter Texans including thousands of Canadians, visit the four-county region of South Texas known as the Rio Grande Valley. The Butterfly Center, at 3333 Butterfly Park Drive Mission, TX 78572 (956-583-5400) is one of the region's star attractions that also is home to a rich diversity of insects, birds and bats. Bird-watching enthusiasts frequent the place as much as butterfly-watchers. (ALL PHOTOS BY AWAKENING NEWS)
The writer of this article on Jan. 28 points south while standing on top of the levy which runs alongside a canal that divides the front-30 acres from the back 70 acres at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas. The back-70 acres being pointed out are at-risk of being largely or completely bulldozed by the anticipated installation of the border fence in this part of the Rio Grande Valley sector. The fence would literally run along the roadway shown here and, in effect, would cut the sanctuary in half.

By M. Samuel Anderson
On Assignment

MISSION, Texas—Two visits to the National Butterfly Center in this deep-south Texas community yielded a wealth of photographs and information regarding the apparently wide-ranging effect that a planned border fence section will have on the butterfly habitat that is so supremely cherished by the popular 100-acre Center’s founders and visitors. Stay tuned for frequent updates.

The decline in this habitat and the anticipated dramatic effect on pollinators such as butterflies is galvanizing public concern, which also extends to the collapse of bee colonies. The fate of our crops and the overall food supply emerges as being paramount in importance, when one gets past the “here-today-gone-tomorrow” headlines and the “big picture” is seriously considered.

While the initial Jan 27, 2019 visit enabled this Awakening News editor to get acquainted with staff and walk part of the “front -30” acres, the Jan. 28 visit was particularly eye-opening, since it involved touring the “back-70” acres. The back part largely consists of a thicket of native vegetation that’s hospitable to migratory butterflies—among other wildlife–though there are some open areas.

Here’s the all-important “catch.” The Rio Grande River marks the actual southern border of the U.S. with Mexico. But the border fence section won’t be built along the river; instead, it evidently will be built a bit to the north, along the elevated levy and parallel canal that separate the front-30 acres from the back-70 acres.

Therefore, the understanding is that the back-70 acreage will be mostly or completely bulldozed by the federal government, in order to set up facilities/infrastructure related to supervising the border fence. This means 70 acres of habitat hangs in the balance, as of this writing the evening of Jan. 28.

Furthermore, a planned classroom for school field trips, as well as a board walk,  etc., will have to be scrapped by the Butterfly Center if the border fencing project goes as planned.

The levy is essentially an elevated roadway. While the characteristic green-and-white U.S. Border Patrol pickup trucks and SUVs routinely patrol the levy, a dump truck was seen driving along it about 12:30 p.m. Central time Jan. 28. And on both visits, this writer heard about—and saw—heavy construction equipment just to the east of the Butterfly Center where large sugar cane fields are located; and just to the west at Bentsen State Park.


According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation: “The population of monarch butterflies overwintering in California has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded. Surveys done by volunteers with the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count found only 28,429 butterflies, an 85.2% fall from the previous year—and a 99.4% decline from the number of monarchs in the state in the 1980s,” a Jan. 17, 2019 press release noted.

LIKE BEING THERE: This is the view from reporter’s truck of the back-70 acres that reportedly will be bulldozed if  the border fence is built as planned.

“To picture what this means for monarchs, imagine that the population of Los Angeles had shrunk to that of the town of Monterey,” Emma Pelton, a monarch conservation expert with the Xerces Society, was quoted as saying.

That press release summarized: “Faced with these alarming numbers, Pelton has worked with monarch scientists at institutions across the West to develop the Western Monarch Call to Action, a five-point rapid-response action plan to rescue the western population of the monarch butterfly. The most immediate priority in the coming weeks is to ensure monarchs have nectar to fuel their flight and milkweeds on which they can lay their eggs when they leave the overwintering sites. This is something that everyone . . . can help with right now: plant early-blooming native flowers and milkweed to restore breeding and migratory habitat. Monarchs will use plants growing in gardens, parks, along railroads, on farms and anywhere else they can find them.”


Bulldozers are expected to soon plow through the protected habitat of the National Butterfly Center  to clear the way for the Trump Administration’s border wall, which recently got a green light from the U.S. Supreme Court

Hundreds of thousands of butterflies flit through the center’s 100-acre sanctuary in Mission. But 70 percent of the land will eventually be on the other side the wall, confirmed Marianna Wright, the executive director. “Just like farmers get crop yield in acres and inches, we get butterflies based on what we have planted in acres and inches,” Marianna Wright told the San Antonio Express-News recently. “So having a wide swath of our property bulldozed is going to negatively impact the volume of the species and diversity of the species.”

The wall could be 30 feet tall with 18-foot steel beams, called bollards, rising from a concrete base along the levy. Various accounts predicted construction to begin in February 2019, probably toward the end of the month.

What happened was that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an appeals ruling that permits the Trump Administration to bypass an estimated 28 federal laws, mostly designed to protect the environment, to build this part of the Rio Grande Valley border barrier, in an overall sector where, according to the Border Patrol, apprehensions of those entering the U.S. illegally tend to be steadily high in number—although the new focus on the migration (and numbers) of pollinators tends to transcend the issue of human migration and casts this issue in a whole new light.


A monarch butterfly photographed at the National Butterfly Center Jan. 27.


In the Visitor’s Center at the National Butterfly Center there is a likeness of the expected border “wall” (more of a fence) that has the theme “Checkpoint Carlos,” a reference to Checkpoint Charlie from the wall that divided Germany during the Cold War.


This sign on the back-70 acres of the Butterfly Center alludes to a wildlife photo-blinds project that may not get built due to the anticipated border fence project.


A shot of the front-30 acres at the National Butterfly Center, as visitors arrive Jan. 27.