A Whole Awful Lot

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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – The Lorax

Story and photographs by Leslie Fowler, shown above and third below early in her pollinator career.

To me there is something extraordinarily beautiful about a tattered monarch, their wings translucent and frayed at the edges. Those battle scars are a testament to how fragile they are, while being capable of incredible things.
 
The monarch migration stretches across multiple generations of butterflies, over 3,000 miles, and spans three countries. But I think the most impressive fact of all is the excitement and wonder that these insects inspire in people. Monarchs spark a nostalgia in hearts that I’m fortunate enough to witness on a regular basis, a nostalgia that I share with them. 

No matter their age, everyone has child-like excitement when they talk about butterflies. It’s one of the small joys in life that I hope future generations keep alive.

Since my background is in fire ecology, people are often surprised when they hear my job title: Monarch and Pollinator Coordinator. This is mainly because they have no idea what a coordinator does for pollinators, partly because it’s so unexpected, and often because they don’t see the connection between gamebirds and pollinators.
 
I began with Quail Forever in Arkansas as the Monarch and Pollinator Coordinator in 2018. To be honest, it isn’t surprising to me at all that I ended up working with The Habitat Organization as Arkansas’s own resident “butterfly lady.” It’s written in our mission: “Dedicated to the conservation of … wildlife through habitat improvements ...”. 

True conservationists understand that habitat management and restoration benefits not only wildlife, but the land and water as well. Though most PF and QF members probably never dreamed that we would be talking about flowers and butterflies.

Monarch and pollinator habitat is most efficiently and effectively managed with fire. Managers strategically use prescribed fire to help reach conservation goals by burning at different times of year to protect wildflowers and knock back naturally dominant grasses, shrubs and invasive species. Fire removes the litter and debris left over from previous years’ growth and reveals the bare ground and open space necessary for young quail and pheasant chicks to survive. Bare ground is serves as nesting habitat for 70% of our native bee species. There are approximately 4,000 species of native bees to North America that have long gone overlooked and, like the monarch and our native grasslands, they need our help.

In my initial job interview I likened my job to that of Dr. Suess’ Lorax, but for monarchs and pollinators. Still, I cannot think of a more accurate comparison. To me there isn’t a more perfect home for positions like mine than Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever.
 
Never in my professional life have I found myself among a more passionate, driven and heartfelt group of people than with The Habitat Organization. From our volunteers at grassroots giving kids seed to scatter on the soil, to our Farm Bill Biologists helping landowners bring back the bobwhite whistles of their youth, their infectious enthusiasm and determination makes it hard to not get caught in the current. 

It’s a compelling movement that I am humbled and excited to be a part of. I am just one biologist in an organization that cares a whole awful lot about the uplands and we are going to make them better for our beloved monarchs and native pollinators. 

My position and others are funded by partners who believe in our ability to put boots on the ground and make plans a reality. We, as coordinators, have the responsibility to help implement strategic conservation plans that are dedicated to taking action for monarchs and pollinators. We work with people at the local, state, regional and national levels who are all working toward the same goal. Through partnerships, we are able to stretch dollars and accomplish ambitious goals that puts habitat on the landscape.
 
And with monarchs we have an unprecedented, unique opportunity to reach the hearts of millions of people who don’t realize that they’re conservationists yet.

Every day I have the joy of lending my hand to deliver our mission and showing people that it is about so much more than monarchs, quail and pheasants. It’s about caring a whole awful lot about making it all better for future generations so that they too can experience the familiar sight of a monarch gliding over wildflowers, hear the whistle of the bobwhite, and feel the same fierce passion for conservation that we do.

Leslie Fowler is Monarch and Pollinator Coordinator for Quail Forever in Arkansas.