Fuel for monarchs: Partnership will add to pollinator habitat across Iowa

From left: Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Monte Shaw, IRFA Habitat Establishment Coordinator Kevin Reynolds and Lincol
From left: Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Monte Shaw, IRFA Habitat Establishment Coordinator Kevin Reynolds and Lincolnway Energy CEO Eric Hakmiller stand on Lincolnway Energy’s Monarch Fueling Station in front of Lincolnway Energy. (Submitted photo, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association)

A partnership between the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium will be good news for monarch butterflies and other pollinators this year.

Under the Monarch Fueling Station Project, announced Tuesday, ethanol and biofuel plants across the state are encouraged to convert green spaces on their land into monarch habitat.

“We thought it would be a great way to help Iowa’s environment and protect a really important pollinator,” said Cassidy Walter, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association communications director. “Ethanol and biodiesel producers across the state are already proud of what they produce. This is a new way they can support the local environment.”

Lincolnway Energy in Nevada is the first plant to sign on to the effort. Preparations recently began to seed a two-acre plot at the facility with milkweed and other wildflowers in the spring.

“Pollinators like the monarch butterfly are an important part of Iowa’s agriculture landscape. Anything we can do to protect their population is worth our time and effort,” Lincolnway Energy Chief Executive Officer Eric Hakmiller said in a news release.

Kevin Reynolds, who worked as a conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 36 years, will assist biofuels producers in the best practices to convert grassy areas into monarch habitat as the project’s habitat establishment coordinator.

Reynolds is Gov. Kim Reynold’s husband.

Steve Bradbury, a professor of entomology at Iowa State University and one of the leaders of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, said small plots such as that planned at Lincolnway are perfect for monarchs when spread across the state. The butterflies don’t stay in one place, but fly from one habitat patch to another on a migratory path that takes them south to Mexico and back north each year.

“Having lots of little patches is just what the monarch needs,” he said.


The ISU-based consortium, which has more than 30 partner organizations, hopes to get more entities involved in planting patches of habitat, which benefit not just monarchs but other species of butterflies, bees, birds and other animals. In November, they drafted habitat goals for the state, and Bradbury said in 2018 they plan to link those efforts with neighboring state and national habitat targets.

Organizers hope to encourage a range of groups — from private companies such as the biofuels plants to municipal governments to farmers — to convert existing underused green space into pollinator habitat.

A similar effort has been underway since 2016 in Linn County, through the 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative, a partnership between municipal governments and the Monarch Research Project that converts public land into pollinator habitat.

“The example of Linn County is the type of activity we want to include,” Bradbury said. “And the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association example illustrates opportunities for organizations that may have facilities across the state to take a look at their grass-dominated landscapes.”

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