Monarchs and Milkweed Matter

 

It may surprise many people in Las Vegas, but the monarch butterfly does indeed inhabit
Southern Nevada during migration.

During the summer of 2015, Friends of Red Rock Canyon decided to help the monarch butterfly
by applying for a grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). After eight very busy weeks, Friends submitted an application to NFWF with the official title of “The Southern Nevada Milkweed Mapping, Seed Production and Distribution Project.”

The goals of the grant included mapping milkweed plant locations, collecting milkweed seeds and planting milkweed plants.

How do milkweed plants help the monarch butterfly?

Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed plants as the plant is the only food source
for monarch caterpillars. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment the caterpillar needs
to transform into the adult butterfly. Unfortunately, milkweed plants have been disappearing throughout their habitat.

The cause?

Habitat loss due to land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they grow.

NFWF awarded Friends the $135,346 grant in September 2015. Now was the time to get busy,
recruit volunteers and get this project off the ground. Friends contracted with Doyle Wayman
as the project manager.

The project name was shortened to the Southern Nevada Milkweed Project, or SNMP.

The SNMP team organized volunteers into several groups including those who mapped milkweed plants in the field, those who collected and cleaned seeds, greenhouse volunteers who propagated milkweed plants and data entry volunteers.

Click here for a video on the project hosted by Doyle Wayman.

After volunteer training was completed, three Field Teams traveled throughout Southern Nevada
and located eight native plant species, including Showy, Desert, Spider, Horsetail, Narrowleaf, Davis, Rush, and Climbing. The Field Teams went out twice a week, mapping and collecting data at each plant location.

The team collected and cleaned seeds from plants within Warm Springs, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Sandy Valley, Cottonwood Valley, Clark County Wetlands Park, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Lovell and Trout Canyons, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and the Bird Spring Range.

From the beginning of the project through the end of October 2016, the SNMP team: mapping and seed collection.

  • Conducted 43 field team  sessions including mapping and seed collection
  • Had 24 greenhouse sessions with 22,500 seeds planted and 12,000 plants grown.
  • Coordinated six sessions in the field with more than 6,000 milkweeds planted thanks
    to almost 150 volunteers.

Unfortunately, the plants had very high mortality rates. The milkweed seeds were originally grown in material made with earthworm casings, Q-Plugs, which were a big attraction for
rodents and birds. Attracted by the earthworm odor, they dug out and ate the plug and sometimes even the entire plant.

The larger plants grown in potting soil did better, although that process took additional time and labor to complete.

Greenhouse propagation continued during late winter of 2016 and early 2017 and new out-plantings occurred during March and April 2017. The greenhouse sessions continued twice a week with activities such as collecting seeds from the plants in the nursery and surrounding area and cleaning milkweed seeds.

The plants that were propagated up to this point were out-planted, with the remaining 3,500 plants in the greenhouse re-potted and moved to the outside of the greenhouse in semi-shade. These plants continued to grow until they were used in out-plantings in the fall of 2017.

During the course of the two-year project, it was discovered that there was a lot of interest in
creating pollinator gardens throughout Southern Nevada.

The out-plantings that took place in 2017 included native pollinator plants in addition to milkweed
plants. Many connections and interest in pollinator gardens were made between the SNMP Team
and Master Gardeners, Green Our Planet, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, Red Rock
Audubon Society, Great Basin Water Company, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of
Success program.

Glenda Bona was named as SNMP Program Manager in July 2017; she and the team continued
to grow milkweed plants. Out-planting sessions of both plants and seed were conducted from September through October.

The fifth and final out-planting took place at the Clark County Cooperative Extension Botanical Gardens with the Master Gardeners planting 100 pollinator plants, including milkweed. The Botanical Gardens is experimenting with growing a wide variety of milkweed and other pollinator attractors.  The “Milkweed Trials” feature small groupings of milkweed planted throughout the 3.5 acre Botanical Gardens.

 

Overall, SNMP had a low success rate with milkweed planted in non-irrigated and
wildlife populated areas. The SNMP Team estimated that 95 percent of the plants
died either from lack of water or uncontrolled wildlife, particularly rabbits and wild
burros. However, out-plantings in areas that could be more easily monitored and had
a source of water had a much higher rate of survival.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, there were many positive outcomes from the
SNMP. The SNMP Team located and mapped a large number of milkweed plants and
collected well over a million seeds. A good replacement to Q-plugs for growing milk-
weed plants was found, the team collaborated with several partners and others in the
community to make this project a success, and seeds and plants were given to those
who will improve monarch butterfly habitats in Southern Nevada.

To obtain a copy of the final grant report, please contact Kristi Weeks, Executive
Director of Friends of Red Rock Canyon at 702-515-5366

Wiping Out Graffiti at Red Rock Day

By Kristi Weeks

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hosts three community volunteer events each year. National Public Lands Day and Make a Difference Day take place in the fall and Red
Rock Day is scheduled to coincide with Earth Day.

To make these events successful, BLM partners with REI, the nonprofit organizations Southern Nevada Conservancy  and Friends of Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Day was held on April 21 at the First Creek Trail within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

With over two million visitors a year, one of the most disturbing trends experienced at Red Rock Canyon is the increase in intentional damage, specifically graffiti applied to cliff faces and boulders within Red Rock Canyon.

Unfortunately, First Creek Trail is heavily impacted by graffiti on a regular basis. Forty-seven volunteers, as well as eight staff members from the BLM, participated in this event to clean graffiti off boulders.

Food and water is always provided at volunteer work day events as a way to say “thank you” to
the community members who come out to help. The day began with coffee, juice and donuts generously provided by Ashley Lee of REI. Friends coordinated the event registration and provided swag bags to event participants. The SNC staff assisted with registration, as well as staffing an Earth Day education table for volunteers and hikers.

BLM staff, team leaders and community volunteers formed six teams and successfully cleaned approximately 25 graffiti sites along the First Creek Trail.

An additional team removed one mile of old cable and eight fence posts. After the work concluded, Friends provided sandwiches, fruit, chips and cookies for the hard-working volunteers and staff. Volunteers donated more than 239 hours, including event preparation, for this successful day.

What can you do to help reduce graffiti within Red Rock Canyon?

You can join Friends’ Graffiti Removal Team and help us keep Red Rock Canyon a graffiti free zone.

Since 1997, the Graffiti Removal Team has donated nearly 2,400 hours of their time and talents to
eradicate the blight. According to Graffiti Team Lead Peter Sbraccia, the areas that experience the most damage include trails at Oak Creek, First Creek and Ice Box, along with all of the Calico Basin and Red Springs sites, especially the climbing areas.

The Graffiti Removal Team works with the BLM to compile an inventory of graffiti damage and
schedules volunteer workdays outside of summer months to remove the damage. Become a member of Friends of Red Rock Canyon and support our ongoing efforts at preserving and protecting this very special place.

You can also help by sending your vandalism photos and the GPS location (use UTM NAD 83) to: preserve@friendsofredrockcanyon.org. Do not confront anyone you see or suspect
of this crime but do note details to provide to BLM Law Enforcement officers.

Friends also will provide a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone defacing Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Thank you to the following Red Rock Canyon staff and volunteers who contributed to a very productive morning: John Asselin, KC Craven, Cody Dix, Cory Gozar, Cal Howell, Shelby Johnson,
Janis Kadlec, Joe Kotecki, Tom Lisby, Wyatt Mulvey, Susan Murphy, Peter Sbraccia, Penny Sinisi
and Kristi Weeks.