Iowa group unveils plan to save the monarchs

Goal is to keep the butterfly off threatened species list

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The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium on Monday released a statewide strategy to support monarch butterfly recovery in Iowa and North America.

The strategy’s primary goal is to establish milkweed as part of healthy natural ecosystems.

It “provides Iowans with additional resources to increase monarch conservation efforts,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, a leader in the consortium that includes more than 30 agricultural and conservation organizations, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies.

Northey said the strategy will develop habitat-development best management practices for farmland, gardeners, urban groups, schools, churches, government agencies, recreational landowners and rights of ways for roads, railroads and utilities.

In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to rule whether the monarch should be listed as a threatened species. The strategy notes that successful volunteer efforts could avert the listing and spare private landowners any additional regulations that would accompany it.

The strategy outlines five ways participants can help monarchs:

— Taking advantage of farm bill programs to establish milkweed.

— Establishing monarch habitat as a demonstration project.

— Following labels and rules when applying toxic pesticides.

— Using monarch-friendly weed management practices for non-crop areas.

— Establishing waystations with both milkweed and nectar plants.

Iowa State University entomologist Steve Bradbury said the consortium is engaged in research to “fine tune approaches for establishing habitat and to integrate pollinator habitat with other conservation practices.”

Northey said the establishment of pollinator habitat dovetails with efforts to improve water quality and provide habitat for other species of wildlife.

A recent report found the monarch population at overwintering sites in Mexico dropped 27 percent this year.

During the past 20 years, the monarch population has declined more than 80 percent — largely because of extreme weather events, loss of winter habitat in Mexico and widespread loss of milkweed, the only plant on which the butterflies will lay their eggs and the only plant the caterpillars will eat.

Experts estimate that 40 percent of all monarch butterflies that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and neighboring Midwestern states.

Northey said seed dealers have improved safeguards to ensure that undesirable weed seeds are no longer included in pollinator seed mixes.

Last year some seed mixes intended to help butterflies and other pollinators included seeds of Palmer amaranth, an aggressive weed that can out-compete corn and soybeans.

ISU Extension weed specialist Bob Hartzler said such contamination last year contributed to the spread of the invasive weed from just five Iowa counties at the beginning of 2016 to 49 counties at the end of the year.

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