Group mapping out way to save the monarch butterfly

The recent study by the Mexican government released on Feb. 9 found the monarch butterfly population wintering in Mexico dropped by 27 percent this year, returning its population to historically low levels.

Roughly 40 percent of all butterflies that overwinter in Mexico are estimated to come from the Midwest, and Iowa is at the center. Work to reverse this trend by improving monarch reproduction and survival has been underway in Iowa for the past few years.  This effort became more formalized with the creation of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium in 2015.

“We didn’t get to this point overnight and we are not going to solve it overnight. We have a really strong group across many different backgrounds working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond,” said Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

In Iowa, experts from Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have been looking at ways to help the local monarch population and to improve and expand the refueling areas for monarchs migrating through. Researchers in Iowa as well as nationally have identified the need to add significantly more habitat in the Upper Midwest for the monarch population to recover.

“The consortium and the strategy being released lay out a road map for how this can happen in Iowa,” Gipp said.

Those opportunities include using the resources in the federal Farm Bill to establish monarch breeding habitat to increase the number of milkweeds and nectar-producing plants; working with landowners who want to voluntarily add monarch habitat on their farm as a demonstration project; using monarch-friendly weed management recommendations for odd areas, roadsides and other rights-of-way that offer opportunities for miles of monarch habitat; and establishing a monarch waystation – a garden with both nectar plants and milkweeds where monarchs can find nectar and reproduce.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was created to enhance monarch reproduction and survival in Iowa through collaborative and coordinated efforts of farmers, private citizens and their organizations.

The consortium was established through the efforts of Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  It is supported by agricultural organizations, conservation organizations, energy industry, universities and state and federal agencies and is partners with national conservation groups like Monarch Watch, Pheasants Forever and Sand County Foundation.

The group has created a framework strategy to help increase the number of monarch butterflies at www.iowamonarchs.info.

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