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Monarch Fest raises awareness about butterfly species' dwindling population

Indian Creek Nature Center informs public about decline of monarch butterfly population with third annual event

CEDAR RAPIDS — Dozens of monarch butterflies danced toward clear blue skies, softly beating their black-and-orange wings as a crowd formed around them.

A short distance away, tiny monarch caterpillars gripped milkweed leaves inside plastic cups, ready to be adopted by attendees of the third annual Monarch Fest held Saturday at Indian Creek Nature Center, 5300 Otis Rd. SE.

The event offered face painting, games and educational opportunities all centered on monarch butterflies in an effort to raise awareness about the insect’s declining population and trying to give people the tools to offset that trend, Indian Creek naturalist Andria Cossolotto said.

“As they migrate — even just as they move around — our flower gardens are like a gas station for these butterflies and pollinators,” she said. “They need to refuel just like we do, just like our cars do. This is kind of helping them and is something that we can do locally.”

Since the mid-1990s, the monarch butterfly population has fallen more than 80 percent.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned in 2014 to protect monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act and will determine whether to do so by June 2019.

Insecticide and herbicide use and loss of habitat are some of the main factors contributing to the population decline, Cossolotto said.

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Audrey Tran Lam informed fest attendees of ways to reduce urban pesticide use as a representative with Good Neighbor Iowa, a statewide public education campaign run out of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education.

Tran Lam said in urban areas where habitat for pollinators such as monarchs is lacking, any amount of food they can find is important.

“Where the environment is hospitable to pollinators, pollinators are going to be,” she said.

One of the main goals of the program, according to Tran Lam, is to let people know there is nothing wrong with a little diversity in their lawns.

“Not all lawns need to look like golf courses,” she said.

Local organizations such as Monarchs in Eastern Iowa also attended the fest to inform the public about the lack of habitat available to the species, said Patty Ankrum, one of the group’s founding members.

The organization has worked with Milkweed Matters, a RAGBRAI team, to plant milkweed seed around the state. That started in 2014 with riders tossing seed along the route roadside. Now, people can make milkweed seed balls to throw along the route.

Organizers set up a station at the fest for children and families to help make the seed balls, which contain a combination of seeds, compost and clay.

Essentially the only thing left for monarch butterflies to survive on is the strip of land between roads and fields, Ankrum said.

Individuals can help by creating urban gardens and prairies, she said.

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“It doesn’t do any good to release a bunch of monarchs if you don’t have habitat,” she said. “If you build it, they will come.”

Fest attendees also had the opportunity to adopt one of about 200 available monarch caterpillars to learn about the insect’s life cycle and watch how it grows, Indian Creek volunteer Kathy Kupka said.

“I grew up where you just walked outside and there was all these butterflies, and you just don’t see that anymore,” she said. “There’s just few areas are there butterflies. We need to help bring back the beauty of it so the next generation can enjoy it.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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