Iowa landowners are restoring native habitats


Prairie Grass
Photo by David Cornwell, Flickr

Tyler Chalfant | October 1st, 2019

Tall grass prairie once covered 70-80% of Iowa, but today, less than 0.1% of that remains. Some conservationists and landowners are working to change that, planting native species to restore Iowa’s natural ecosystems. 

The fourth annual Linn Landowners Forum was held in Marion on Sunday, educating landowners large and small on restoring native habitats, planting pollinators, and reviving the monarch butterfly population. Mark Vitosh, from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, spoke at the forum about the effects of invasive species, which can push out native plants and disrupt natural habitats.

The Iowa DNR Prairie Resource Center purchases thousands of acres per year to restore natural habitats. The loss of prairie has caused the decline of many native species. Tall grasses provide winter cover for a variety of species and are home to insects and small mammals important to the ecosystem’s food chain. Additionally, native grasses can slow soil erosion and nutrient runoff, protecting lakes, rivers, and streams from pollution.

The event’s finale featured the release of 500 monarch butterflies, captured by the Monarch Research Station, which tags hundreds of butterflies each year to track their migration patterns. According to the station’s manager Mike Martin, those patterns are often disrupted by habitat loss, pesticide and herbicide use, and the elimination of milkweed. 

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 joins effort to improve pollinator habitat along Interstate 35


(USFWSmidwest/Flickr)
(USFWSmidwest/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 2, 2016

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has joined transportation departments in five other states as well as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in an effort to improve pollinator habitat along Interstate 35.

memorandum of understanding was signed last week in Des Moines by state transportation officials from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas as well as the FHWA to protect and improve pollinator habitat along I-35 which serves as a main corridor for Monarch butterflies as they migrate from Mexico to Canada and back every year. The agreement calls for “a cooperative and coordinated effort to establish best practices and promote public awareness of the monarch butterfly, honey bee and pollinator conservation.”

This initiative is part of a bigger effort announced by the Obama Administration in 2014 to promote pollinator health and protect the associated economic impact. Honey bees alone contribute more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year. The economic benefits of this initiative can also directly impact the state transportation departments.

“We’ve actually found in Minnesota that restoring prairie along the interstate is not only good for the environment but it helps reduce our maintenance costs,” Minnesota DOT commissioner Charles Zelle told the Associated Press. “Natural prairie grasses and flowers that provide foraging habitat and places to breed, nest and overwinter also don’t have to be mowed as often and help prevent erosion on steep banks.”

I-35 – which the agreement unofficially renames “the Monarch Highway” – stretches 1,500 miles from Laredo, Texas to Duluth, Minnesota.