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Texas officials face major setback over plans for a border wall: 'It's absolutely devastating'

"This new construction has bulldozed a huge amount of desert habitat."

Prostrate milkweed, Endangered species, Building border wall

Photo Credit: iStock

They might need to change the saying from "Don't mess with Texas" to "Don't mess with monarchs." Monarch butterfly lovers scored a significant victory against Texas officials when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently declared prostrate milkweed an endangered species. 

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants during their epic migration through North America. A vital stretch of prostrate milkweed along the Texas-Mexico border was in danger of being completely wiped out. Prostrate milkweed is rare and only grows in that region — making it an important rest stop for monarchs migrating north. 

Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed because monarch caterpillars can eat only milkweed. The beautiful orange and black butterflies get their orange color from the plant, and — even more importantly — they store the toxins they consume from milkweed, which makes the butterflies toxic to predators. 

If you're wondering why some Texas officials would fight back against protecting butterfly habitats, that stretch of land is where many people are trying to build a border wall. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pushed back against putting the endangered tag on the prostrate milkweed, claiming that protecting the plant would allow an "influx" of immigration. 

Governor Greg Abbott recently hired a "border czar" to speed up the construction of the wall — which has been a major contributor to the milkweed's recent decline. 

The construction of the border wall has devastated numerous habitats in the region that were already struggling with the effects of climate change, urban planning, and agricultural expansion. The National Audubon Society reported on the "ecological and cultural destruction" caused by the rushed border wall construction at the end of former President Donald Trump's term. 

"This new construction has bulldozed a huge amount of desert habitat, blasted rugged mountains, destroyed cultural sites," said Laiken Jordahl of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's absolutely devastating."

Listing the prostrate milkweed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act will go a long way to protecting 661 acres of critical habitat near the Rio Grande. While the rare milkweed is essential for the survival of monarchs, it's also crucial for other pollinators, like bees, which are responsible for pollinating 80% of flowering crops worldwide, including more than 130 types of fruits and vegetables

"Conserving rare plants and healthy habitats ensures America's shared natural heritage continues to endure for future generations," the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press release. "Flowering plants also support wildlife – including pollinators — and bring aesthetic beauty to our natural world and public lands."

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