Audubon International’s Monarchs in the Rough initiative has reached a milestone on golf courses. The organization announced over 700 golf properties have committed 1,020 acres to planting milkweed that monarchs need to survive.
By developing a unique partnership of golf course superintendents, golf management companies, Environmental Defense Fund, Monarch Joint Venture and the United States Golf Association, Audubon International moved the golf industry to a leadership position in the efforts to save pollinators and, specifically, the monarch butterfly and its legendary annual migration across North America.
Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat, which make it critical to the butterfly’s life cycle. Monarch butterflies, as well as many other pollinators, also feed on the nectar of milkweed flowers.
Many golf superintendents are already receiving positive feedback on their efforts from golfers, board of directors and course owners.
Leveraging a $150,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Audubon International offers regionally appropriate seed mixes in key areas, along with technical assistance to superintendents and others in golf operations in creating, protecting, and maintaining milkweed and other native plantings. The organization is also tracking the success of the plantings from site preparation through full establishment.
“Audubon International is proud to be leading this exciting and unique Monarchs in the Rough partnership. We’re already seeing positive results from the plantings and interest in the program continues to grow,” Audubon International conservation initiatives director Marcus Gray said. “Our thanks go out to all Monarchs in the Rough sponsors, supporters and friends who have helped it grow so quickly, but, most particularly, to the golf course superintendents, without whose efforts this success could not have happened.”
The goal-topping acre came with the registration of Lockhart State Park Golf Course in Texas. When asked about the reasons for joining Monarchs in the Rough, Austin Vieh, park superintendent, said, “Part of the mission of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is to conserve the natural resources of Texas. Lockhart State Park is lucky enough to have areas that could serve as valuable monarch habitat, so we wanted to do our part in conserving this iconic species.”
Funding is now being sought to continue assisting superintendents interested in transitioning areas to native milkweed and wildflowers as well as those wishing to scale up now that they have observed how the project fits into their routine.
As more operations see the ecological and financial benefits enjoyed by their peers, the concepts are expected to spread, growing the habitat network butterflies use on their migration and for reproduction.
“As a founding partner of Monarchs in the Rough, EDF is proud of these accomplishments, but we're even more excited for the next stage of the program where we can demonstrate economic advantages for golf courses that actively preserve diverse native habitat,” Environmental Defense Fund Western strategies director Daniel Kaiser said.
The USGA has also made significant contributions to the program, delivering a $100,00 grant through the USGA Turfgrass Environmental Research Program in 2018.
"Golf courses can serve as wildlife sanctuaries when they are managed properly,” USGA environmental research director Cole Thompson said. “Monarchs in the Rough has made it easier for golf courses to get involved by establishing and enhancing pollinator habitat that directly benefits their communities. The USGA has been proud to champion this project as part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability and is excited by the program's progress and future goals."
The USGA has supported the conservation efforts of Audubon International since 1991 through more than $1.5 million of grant funding. The long-standing relationship includes a $1.3 million grant toward the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, an award-winning education and certification program that helps golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game. The program helps golf course managers enhance valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats, improve efficiency and protect the environment.
The next phase of the work is to use Monarchs in the Rough plots as study sites to measure planting results, butterfly use and management practice adaptation in response to the need for lower inputs required for restored sites.