Monarch Butterflies Migrating to Iowa


Monarch Butterflies Migrate to Iowa Every Year (Flickr).

Sthefany Nóbriga| May 8, 2019

 Researchers from Iowa State University predict that this spring Iowans will see the largest population of monarch butterflies in over a decade. 

The monarch butterflies migrate every winter to Canopy Forest in central Mexico. During the winter of 2013 to 2014, the monarch population plummeted, covering less than 2.5 acres of the forest, the lowest point of the population in the past two decades. This is partly because of the loss of summer breeding habitat and pesticide use. 

However, this past winter scientist noted Mexico’s most significant overwintering monarch population since 2007. Almost 200 million adult monarch butterflies were recorded, and now they are migrating up north.

According to the researchers from Iowa State University, the reason for the increase in the monarch population is due to mild winters in Mexico, and southern parts of the United States in comparison to other years. 

Scientists are hopeful and want to maintain the monarch population and preserve their numbers. But it is reported that there is a shortage of potential breeding habitats in Iowa to maintain a steady population. 

In order to maintain this population, there must be approximately 480,000 to 830,000 acres of habitat over the next 10 to 20 years according to Iowa Public Radio. 

If the weather stays favorable, Iowans will be seeing a large monarch population starting at the end of May or even early June. 

Iowa reacts to proposed EPA Clean Water Rule rollback


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Regulation over streams on farmland is in dispute (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 3rd, 2019

The Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule would reduce federal jurisdiction over wetlands, streams and other small water bodies on Iowa farmland. Some Iowans see the proposal, officially made in mid-December, as a win for farmers, while others see it as a hit to much needed water quality regulation in the state.

Since the start of his term, Pres. Trump has wanted to limit Obama’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, which more clearly defined “Waters of the United States” within the Clean Water Act of 1972. This increased the protected area by about 3 percent (according to an op-ed from Bloomberg News) by adding more streams and neighboring wetlands, ponds and impoundments into federal jurisdiction and reducing those waterbodies that could once be given/denied protection on a “case-by-case” basis.

The current administration proposes removing wetlands without clear surface connection to larger bodies of water from protection, as well as “ephemeral” streams that only flow with rainfall or snowmelt, about 18 percent of the country’s total streams. The proposal is now undergoing 60 days of public comment.

In November, the country already allowed Iowa to halt enforcement of the rule until disagreement over it was settled in court. Most farmers seem to want that allowance made permanent by the Clean Water Rule rollback. The Iowa Farm Bureau shared a statement of support in December after the EPA announced the proposed rollback, and called the Obama Era rule an “overreach.”

As Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters, “Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that going forward a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government.”

Iowa has serious water quality issues, however, caused for the most part by runoff from farm fields containing harmful nutrients like nitrate and phosphorus. The state recognizes the importance of on-farm streams and wetlands in managing soil and water quality, and encourages the construction of buffers between crops and waterways to minimize runoff into streams or wetlands.

Curt Zingula, a Linn County farmer who uses a saturated buffer on his farm to protect a creek, told the Sioux City Journal he is proactive about water quality management, but thinks the Clean Water Rule “cast a shadow” over a landowner’s entire farm.

Others believe the rule was necessary, however, and think the proposed rollback will worsen Iowa’s water problem. A staff editorial in the Gazette called Ernst’s statements “hyperbole” and pushed for more focus on the water itself in the discussions surrounding the proposed rule change.

“If the Trump administration can’t explain how its definition will lead to cleaner water, and all of its related benefits, it should go back to the drawing board,” it reads. “Otherwise, it’s simply replaced Obama’s ‘overreach’ with a dereliction of duty to protect the nation’s waters for future generations.”

Iowa expects to get drenched


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Iowa expects dark and stormy skies for the next several days (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 5th, 2018

After its third-wettest September on record, Iowa can expect a rainy October, too. The DesMoines Register reported that 4 to 5 inches of rain are forecasted to fall over most of the state in next few days. For some localities, it’s already started.

Southwest Iowa may be hit the hardest. Forecasts there predict 6 or more inches of rain.

The rain is expected to fall almost endlessly at least into early next week. National Weather Service meteoroligst Brooke Hagenhoff told the Register that the widespread nature of the forecast will likely increase the rainfall’s impacts on rivers and low-lying areas.

Some parts of the state are already saturated. Despite a fairly dry start to the month, flood alerts have been active for parts of the Des Moines, Cedar and Iowa Rivers throughout this week thanks to late-September rains in northern Iowa. The Iowa Flood Information System gauged a major flood stage for the Wapsipinicon River at DeWitt as of Wednesday afternoon.

 

New climate predictions for Iowa


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Iowa will be facing even hotter temperatures. (Rich H/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 25th, 2018

Two professors from Iowa recently contributed an article to the Des Moines Register about new climate change predictions for the state of Iowa. Gene Tackle, an emeritus professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, and Jerry Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental at the University of Iowa and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, wrote about the serious effects that climate change will have for Iowans, and how Iowans are already being effected.

Schnoor and Tackle reference information from the from the Climate Science Special Report which is part of the National Climate Assessment Report. The report found that heat wave temperatures will increase to a range of 97-102 degrees by 2050. Currently, heat wave temperatures fall in a range of  90-95 degrees. These temperatures have serious consequences for vulnerable populations such as the young and elderly, as well as our agricultural interests in Iowa. Extreme weather events, such as the recent flooding in Polk County, have already demonstrated the danger of climate change we are facing today.

Despite Iowa facing these grim predictions, Schnoor and Tackle urge Iowans that they can still take action. Supporting renewable energy, voting in local elections, and joining local organizations that spread information about climate change are all presented as important ways to help protect our future.

 

 

On the Radio- Reacting to flooding in Iowa


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Flooding near Des Moines, Iowa (flickr/Joe G.)

Eden DeWald | July 9, 2018

This week’s segment covers how devastating recent floods in Iowa have been, and what the Iowa Legislature has done to respond to them.

Transcript:

At least 951 presidential flood-emergency declarations have been made in the state of Iowa since 1988.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A study conducted in part by the Iowa Flood Center revealed that Iowa had the fourth most flood-related FEMA disaster declarations in the country from 1988 to 2016. Fourteen counties, including Johnson and Linn, had more than thirteen declarations in the twenty-eight-year span — about one every other year.

The disasters have amounted to four-point-one billion dollars in crop losses and thirteen-point-five billion dollars in property losses around the state.

After the historic 2008 floods, the Iowa Legislature created the Iowa Flood Center, which has since developed an online tool called the Iowa Flood Information System. The web-based system allows users to see flooding around the state in real time, and help them understand the risk in their homes, farms, or businesses. This resource can help communities better prepare for future floods, or improve land use planning.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

“Frost-free” days increase, so does allergy season


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Climate Central’s graph illustrates how the number of frost-free days in Des Moines has increased over time. (Climate Central)

Jenna Ladd | April 11, 2018

Given that spring snow fell across Iowa this weekend, it may be hard to believe that the frost-free season across the U.S. is actually getting longer.

A recent report found that, on average, the last spring freeze is occurring earlier while the first fall freeze is happening later. Researchers define the frost-free season as the total number of days between the last day of 32 degree Fahrenheit or lower weather in the spring and the first day of 32 degree Fahrenheit weather in the fall.

The lengthening of this season means that pollen-producing plants have a longer growing period. One study in particular found that the growing season for ragweed, a common allergen in the U.S., lengthened by two to four weeks between 1995 and 2009. This data was collected from ten sites from the southern U.S. through Canada. Iowa has added nine days to the average length of its frost-free season from 1986-2015 when compared with the average from 1901-1960.

Not only are allergy-causing plants benefiting from longer growing seasons, but an uptick in atmospheric carbon dioxide also increases pollen counts. Last year was the worst allergy season in recent record and experts expect this year to be similar.

Dr. Joseph Shapiro, an allergist and immunologist from California told CBS news, “A recent study showed that pollen counts are likely to double by the year 2040, so in a little more than 20 years we’re going to see a significant increase [in seasonal allergies].”

Climate Central’s recent report provides an interactive graph that allows users to select a U.S. city and see how the frost-free season’s length there may have changed since 1970.

Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy draft released


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Female monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed pods. (Charles Dawley/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 15, 2018

A draft of the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy was released on Monday, and Iowa plays an integral role in its success.

North American monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 80 percent in the last two decades, and their numbers are less than half of what is needed to guarantee a sustainable population. The black and gold pollinators spend their winter months in Mexico and southern California and travel to the northern midwest for the summer. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively in milkweed pods.

Released by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the conservation strategy draft explains that midwestern states plan to establish 1.3 billion new milkweed stems over the next two decades. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is included within the midwestern effort. Written by Iowa State University’s Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, its aims to establish between 480,000 and 830,000 acres on monarch habitat by 2038.

Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, said, “The consortium has worked collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to expand habitat on our agricultural land, urban areas, roadsides, and other public land. We appreciate the many partners that have been involved and are encouraged by the work already underway.”

Iowa’s strategy provides evidence-based recommendations for creating monarch habitat and aims to document all voluntary efforts. 127 to 188 million new milkweed stems are estimated to be planted in Iowa in accordance with the plan.

Given that the vast majority of Iowa land is in agricultural production, the plan’s authors emphasize that agricultural lands must be a part of the solution. The strategy considers both expanding on existing conservation practices and planting milkweed stems in underutilized farm land as viable options. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will decide in June 2019 whether the monarch butterfly should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said, “Iowa falls entirely within the monarch’s northern breeding core. This means that every patch of milkweed habitat added in Iowa counts, and Iowa is perfectly situated to lead the way in conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly. The recovery cannot succeed without Iowa.”

The full draft of the Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.
The complete Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.