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.

Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released


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The Cerro Pelón Reserve near Macheros is the second most populous monarch butterfly roosting site in Mexico during the winter months. (Dylan Hillyer/personal collection)
Jenna Ladd | February 28, 2017

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium released its statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of the monarch butterfly on Monday.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy aims to recover monarch butterfly populations in Iowa and North America. Developed by the consortium-a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies-the strategy provides necessary resources and information to advance the well-being of monarch butterflies in Iowa and across the continent.

A recent report found that the population of monarch butterflies that spend the winter months in Mexico decreased by 27 percent in 2016, primarily due to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only plant in which female monarchs will lay their eggs as well as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. According to the consortium, about 40 percent of monarchs that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and its neighboring states. In the last two decades, the total monarch population has declined by 80 percent.

Monarch butterflies provide vital ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest management. They also serve as a food source to larger animals such birds and bats.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said, “We didn’t get to this point overnight, and we aren’t going to improve the population overnight. But we have a really strong group across many different areas of expertise working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.”

The strategy provides scientifically-based conservation practices that include using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying pesticides that may be toxic to the butterfly.

In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wendy Wintersteen is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. She said, “This strategy is critical to rally Iowa agriculture, landowners and citizens to continue to make progress in restoring monarch habitat.”

Group hopes to use RAGBRAI to restore Iowa’s Monarch populations


Nick Fetty | July 23, 2015

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) kicked off this week and one CGRER member is hoping to use the event as a opportunity restore Monarch butterfly populations in the Hawkeye State.

CGRER founding member David Osterberg and University of Iowa College of Public Health research support specialist Nancy Wyland organized an event last week inviting people to help make milkweed  “seed bombs.” These bombs consist of soil, compost, and milkweed seeds rolled into a ball – roughly the size of a golf ball – which will be distributed to RAGBRAI riders as they make their way through Mount Vernon Friday afternoon.

Riders are encouraged to toss these seed bombs in ditches along roads in Linn and Johnson County to bring back milkweed plants with the hope of restoring Iowa’s Monarch butterfly population. Estimates show a 90 percent decline in Monarch populations over the past 20 years.

Osterberg and his group helped create roughly 600 seed bombs as part of a larger effort spearheaded by Monarchs in Eastern Iowa, a group that aims to store Monarch populations in Eastern Iowa. Last year the group raised and released approximately 1400 butterflies.

Among the riders participating in this effort is Kelly “Milkweed” Guilbeau. The Grinnell resident, who sports a butterfly costume during the ride, first began tossing out seed bombs last year. Guilbeau also manages a blog which focuses on Monarch butterflies.

This year marks the 43rd anniversary of RAGBRAI with approximately 20,000 participants on this year’s ride.

On the Radio: Genetically modified crops affect monarch butterfly populations


Photo by Dave Govoni, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s episode discusses the effects genetically modified crops on monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterfly populations are declining.  Some research suggests that genetically modified crops may be partially responsible.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

ISU research links genetically modified crops to monarch butterfly decline


Photo by Dave Govoni (Va bene!), Flickr.

Earlier this year, research conducted by the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University linked the declining monarch butterfly population to the rise in genetically modified crops.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, which used to often be present on the edges of cornfields. The caterpillars then feed exclusively off of the milkweed.

However, since the introduction of crops that can withstand heavy herbicide use, more herbicide has been used on farms and milkweed has disappeared. Without this food source, caterpillars struggle to survive.

Read more here.