Outdoors

Everyone can help in saving monarch butterflies

Wildside: Find out how at Linn Landowners Forum on Sept. 16

A giant swallowtail, the largest butterfly in North America, extracts nectar this summer from a swamp milkweed plant in Quasqueton. Participants in the upcoming Linn Landowners Forum can learn how to establish native plants that attract butterflies and other pollinator insects. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
A giant swallowtail, the largest butterfly in North America, extracts nectar this summer from a swamp milkweed plant in Quasqueton. Participants in the upcoming Linn Landowners Forum can learn how to establish native plants that attract butterflies and other pollinator insects. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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The widespread and expanding movement to help the imperiled monarch butterfly constitutes “one of the largest conservation efforts of our lifetime,” according to Kraig McPeek, the keynote speaker at the upcoming Linn Landowners Forum.

The forum, from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 16 at Clearwater Farm in Marion, is intended to accelerate that movement by helping Linn County residents add more nature to their land.

The monarch’s beauty and mystique, coupled with “the fact that each of us can do something to make a difference,” help explain the contagious nature of the movement, said McPeek, Illinois and Iowa field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Adverse weather and loss of habitat have severely stressed the monarch’s intricate and precarious life cycle, which depends on a seemingly frail and brainless insect completing a 2,000-mile southerly migration — a life cycle threatened by a steep, herbicide-driven decline in milkweed, the only plant on which the butterfly will lay its eggs, the only plant its larvae will consume.

McPeek said an approximately 80 percent decline in monarch numbers during the past 20 years has prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to assess whether the butterfly needs protection under the Endangered Species Act, with a decision expected in June.

While people can’t influence the weather, almost anyone can help improve habitat by planting milkweed, he said.

“It can be a farmer with 8,000 acres or an apartment dweller with a potted plant in the window or anything between,” McPeek said.

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Helping monarchs is as good for the helpers as it is for the environment, according to McPeek, who said, “It adds something special to your life.”

About 400 people are expected to attend the third annual forum, which includes presentations, how-to sessions and more than 20 vendors offering expertise and services ranging from seeds and stormwater solutions to land management, planning and protection.

Presenting sponsor Alliant Energy will provide each participant with a 38-species seed mix sufficient to establish a 400-square foot mini-prairie.

Restoring a favorable environment for the monarchs “is going to take a lot of people doing the right things, and we want to be a part of that grass roots effort,” said Doug Kopp, president of Interstate Power and Light Co., Alliant’s Iowa subsidiary.

Encouraging the establishment of native plants, he said, is consistent with Alliant’s philosophy to help reclaim nature for future generations.

Breakout sessions will provide guidance on planning a prairie, securing available funding, selecting a site, preparing the soil, maintaining established prairies and improving the health of woodlands.

The long-term goal of the forums is to help landowners, large and small, restore and preserve 10,000 acres of natural land in Linn County, said Clark McLeod, director of the Cedar Rapids-based Monarch Research Project, which organized the event in cooperation with Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Linn County Conservation, Linn Soil and Water Conservation District, Pheasants Forever, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Trees Forever.

Doing so, McLeod said, will benefit insects and other wildlife, improve water quality and reduce flooding.

To register for the free forum, go to www.monarchresearch.org or phone (319)-892-6450.

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In a related event, scientist and author Doug Tallamy will deliver the keynote address at the Iowa Roadside Conference banquet on Sept. 13 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids.

“I’m all for helping monarchs, but that is just one of thousands of insect species threatened by the loss of the native plant species that sustain them,” said Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware.

“We need insects not just for pollination but also because they are a critical component of ecosystems that include the birds that feed upon them,” he said.

Registration for the Roadside Conference banquet remains open through 4 p.m. Monday at tallgrassprairiecenter.org/roadside-banquet.

Limited seating will be available for people who want to hear the address without dining.

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