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Monarch conservation takes flight in Iowa

Monarch Butterfly

Whenever I visit my dad, we like to talk shop about what’s new at work. In my family, we like to joke that Dad is a “grass expert” – but not the kind of grass you can use recreationally in Colorado.

My dad is a regional seed manager for La Crosse Seed, which specializes in wholesale forage, turf and lawn seed. His sales territory includes northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota.

A few years back, Dad enjoyed a record sales year as more farmers started planting cover crop seed in northern Iowa. This year, Dad says he can hardly keep up with the requests for pollinator seed mixes, a blend of native grasses and wildflowers that provides habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other important pollinators.

A collaborative effort called the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium is working to increase the habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators in the state.

The consortium released an updated Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy this March. The strategy seeks to establish approximately 480,000 to 830,000 acres of monarch habitat in Iowa by 2038.

This is good news for those of us nature lovers who enjoy seeing monarchs as they migrate to and from the Midwest during the warm-weather months.

Unfortunately, the monarch butterfly population has declined by about 80 percent over the past 20 years, according to monarch counts in their winter habitat in Mexico.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but there’s a coordinated effort - both here in Iowa and across the Midwest - to provide more habitat for monarchs to help support and boost the population.

Iowa is an important habitat zone for monarch butterflies, particularly in the summer, when they breed and feed on milkweeds and other pollinator-friendly plants and flowers.

Dana Schweitzer, program coordinator for the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, says the group is sharing ideas on how landowners – working in all land-cover types – can boost monarch habitat.

“That includes agricultural lands, urban and suburban land, rights-of-way, and other public lands ...,” Schweitzer says. “It’s going to require all hands on deck in order for any effort that add more (monarch) habitat into the landscape to actually have an impact for the species population.”

Schweitzer says research shows that smaller plots of habitat broadly spaced throughout the landscape may be more beneficial to monarchs, as they flutter from one spot to the next, rather than large tracts of land with broad gaps in between.

That’s why Iowa State University (ISU) researchers are studying the best methods for establishing pollinator habitat in non-productive land, such as roadside ditches and unused grassy spots on acreages.

Many livestock farmers are planting pollinator habitat next to hog barns. In addition, utility companies are planting habitat on utility rights-of-way. And new this year, Iowa ethanol plants have joined together to plant “monarch fueling stations” near their facilities.

Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines has also partnered with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium to encourage all Iowans to protect monarch butterflies through the “Plant. Grow. Fly.” Program.

The program includes educational seminars on how to plant pollinator-friendly prairie gardens, as well as special events at the zoo to teach Iowans of all ages how they can help with monarch conservation efforts.

Additional partners in the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium include ISU, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The consortium also includes conservation organizations, utility service providers, private colleges and agricultural organizations, including the Iowa Farm Bureau.

For more information on how you can help, visit the Blank Park Zoo’s website at www.blankparkzoo.com or the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium at https://monarch.ent.iastate.edu/.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.



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