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Signs of hope: Why monarch butterflies are important to Iowa

Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium

It’s hard to believe, but the beloved children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” turned 50 years old this year.

Author and illustrator Eric Carle told Amazon why he thinks his book remains a favorite of kids and adults today.

“It is a book of hope. Children need hope. You, little caterpillar, can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent,” Carle said.

We Iowans are so fortunate to witness nature’s miracle each summer and fall, when the monarch butterflies return to the state to feed and transform on milkweed plants before embarking on their cross-continent winter journey south.

Iowans care about conserving our natural resources. And work to grow the monarch butterfly’s habitat is showing early signs of hope and progress.

This winter, eastern monarch butterfly counts in their overwintering habitat increased, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Monarchs covered approximately 15 acres of forest canopy in Mexico, a doubling of last year’s population and a level not seen since 10 years ago.

“It’s really heartening to see what we would consider good (monarch) numbers,” said Dana Schweitzer, program coordinator for the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, based at Iowa State University (ISU). “We want folks to pause for a moment and appreciate all that is possible to sustain that population over time.”

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, launched in 2015, is a community-led initiative with a goal to enhance monarch habitat in the state through collaborative efforts of farmers, citizens and organizations.

The Iowa Farm Bureau is one of 50 member organizations - including utility providers, agribusiness, farmers, conservation groups and universities – that support the research and outreach of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.

Monarch habitat in Iowa continues to increase, in part because of voluntary efforts and federal incentive programs that encourage pollinator-habitat planting, Schweitzer says.

There is also more interest from farmers and landowners in planting habitat to support monarchs and other wildlife, Schweitzer says. For example, the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium is working with the Iowa Pork Producers Association on a project to plant pollinator habitat next to pig barns.

Iowa’s ethanol and biodiesel plants also launched the cleverly named Monarch Fueling Station project to establish pollinator habitat near their production facilities.

All Iowans are encouraged to take part in monarch conservation efforts, Schweitzer said. Families can find resources to help protect the monarch butterfly through the Blank Park Zoo’s “Plant. Grow. Fly” program.

“Take an opportunity when it’s available to learn more about native plants, like milkweed, and the monarch lifecycle,” Schweitzer said. “Connect with a grandchild, connect with a niece or nephew, and share that experience of why the monarch is beloved in Iowa.”

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



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