116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Local nonprofit Monarch Research has completed its fourth planting season, reaching a third of its overall target for tree restoration in Linn County.
More than 3,800 participants received upwards of 13,700 trees during the Fall 2022 Planting Forward initiative. More than 45 percent of the selected trees were oak species — which provide important habitats for butterflies, birds and more critters.
The group originally ordered 15,000 trees for the season, but some species were unavailable, said Monarch Research co-founder Clark McLeod. The group’s spring planting season earlier this year yielded around 14,500 distributed trees.
The Planting Forward initiative held its first planting season in 2021 and aims to plant 150,000 trees by 2026. This year’s progress brings the group to 54,000 trees distributed.
“Our mission is to literally touch every landowner in Linn County,” McLeod said.
This planting season also featured a new program: a Native Tree Right-of-Way Enrichment Pilot in partnership with the City of Marion.
Monarch Research provided 1,500 trees to Marion to replace fallen trees and establish new growth in areas that were previously vacant. Five-hundred of these trees were planted by residents and landowners through the pilot. Participants will be expected to care for their new trees for the first five years.
Plans for continuing the pilot into 2023 are in progress.
“One of the biggest issues with cities planting trees is getting citizens to take care of the tree,” McLeod said. “(The volunteers in the pilot) are people who have volunteered to take care of the tree.”
Monarch Research was formed in 2015 to increase native pollinator habitat and monarch populations in Linn County. Its Planting Forward communitywide initiative — which was established following the 2020 derecho — aims to replant 150,000 native trees over a five-year period, which began in April 2021.
The nonprofit targets private landowners by partnering with businesses, schools, hospitals, neighborhoods and local governments to distribute trees to employees and their communities across Linn County. By making a diverse and native array of trees more available to the public, the nonprofit aims to help ecosystems recover from the derecho and deforestation while bolstering habitat for insects and animals.
“It's a 300-year investment in the community,” McLeod said.
Orders for the Spring 2023 Planting Forward season will open in March, and the trees will be available for planting in April. Come January, Monarch Research will release the list of species available to order.
• Medical organizations — like UnityPoint Health, Mercy Medical Center and Virginia Gay Hospital — supplied 1,328 participants.
• Thirteen Linn County school districts, including Marion Independent and Cedar Rapids Community, sported 1,511 participants.
• Several businesses and local governments — including CRST, GreatAmerica Financial Services, City of Marion, City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County and Brucemore — had 910 participants.
• Woodlands owners accounted for 67 participants.
New programs coming soon
Monarch Research is working on several new programs to help educate Linn County residents and children about the importance of native trees and how to care for them, McLeod said.
The nonprofit is building partnerships with local hospitals with the goal of providing a tree for every new birth in Linn County in 2023.
“The child will grow up with the tree,” McLeod said. “The idea behind that is to imprint the child with the importance of the tree. Hopefully, when they have a child, we want that child to have their own tree as well.”
Monarch Research is also working on a program for collecting and planting acorns. Four-thousand northern red oak acorns were harvested this year to be planted in the spring.
“We’re trying to get at people in different ways to learn about nature,” McLeod said. “Education is really what it's all about.”
Brittney J. Miller is an environmental reporter for The Gazette and a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.
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