Central Texans and the City of Killeen Environmental Services volunteered alongside the Fort Hood Adaptive and Integrative Management program, helping to plant 1,200 milkweed stems.

Gatesville residents Stephanie and Bill Abright kicked off their 31st wedding anniversary by planting on an area of the 120-acre pollinator habitat restoration project.

“We are very excited about Fort Hood’s conservation and beautification efforts, especially now that we see these activities taking place at North Fort Hood,” Stephanie Abright said. “We are thrilled to see a native prairie restoration project to support pollinators taking place in an area with public access.”

With her shovel in hand, while delicately removing the milkweed stem from the plant holder and placing it into the ground, Stephanie Lara, Killeen resident, was also excited to volunteer.

“Planting milkweeds, while getting to know the volunteers, reminded me that we all come from different backgrounds, but each of us has the ability to contribute when we work together,” Lara said. “The difference that one person can make goes beyond the gratification of giving.”

Jacky Ferrer-Perez, program manager, AIM program, explained the multi-phased pollinator project is a collaborative effort with the Compatible Lands Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support the Military Monarch Initiative.

“If certain species, like the monarch, are listed as endangered, it can put restrictions on military training,” Ferrer-Perez said. “Our program tries to stay ahead of that, with proactive management of species that are in decline.”

With a milkweed stem grant provided by Monarch Watch, the AIM Program, received two ecoregion specific species – Ascelpias viridis (green milkweed) and Asclepias asperula (antelope-horn milkweed).

“Both species need slightly different conditions to be successful,” Ferrer-Perez said. “Having two kinds of milkweeds promotes plant diversity and increases our chances of higher success rates.”

She explained the green milkweed likes wet, damp areas, whereas the antelope milkweed is more drought tolerant and can handle being in areas of high disturbance. But at the initial stages as a milkweed stem is transplanted into the ground, they require an extensive watering regime in order to establish them.

“It is going to take some time for the milkweed to do its part to contribute to the ecosystem,” Ferrer-Perez said. “By this time next year, we will see how far they have come. We hope to learn how varying conditions can alter the grow rates of these plants, which will provide additional insight needed to implement best management practices.”

The planting effort will help caterpillars who only eat milkweed and adult monarch butterflies that rely on both milkweed and a variety of native nectar sources for survival.

Albright said the milkweed planting project gave her and her husband a sense of satisfaction that they could contribute to the support of monarch habitat on a larger scale.

“Community projects and activities are great ways to get to know people while contributing to the wellbeing of the community,” Albright said. “And activities like the milkweed planting project are a lot of fun and provide personal satisfaction in knowing that we have made a difference.”

Ferrer-Perez praised volunteers and the community support from the City of Killeen Environmental Services for making the planting a success.

“It’s really encouraging to know that there are so many people in the surrounding areas that are really supportive of our program’s conservation efforts and are so willing to come out and contribute their personal time to do such hard work,” Ferrer-Perez said.