Improve Monarch Habitat with Helpful Resources

You don't need to own a farm to help these essential pollinators

August 5, 2022, 1:01 pm | Chris Kick

AMES, Iowa – Farmers, gardeners and anyone with interest in helping monarchs thrive can get involved with resources provided by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

At this year’s Farm Progress Show, specialists from Iowa State University and USDA will discuss recent efforts to increase the population of this essential pollinator and resources to improve its numbers in the future.

Monarch butterflies.The eastern population of monarch butterflies is holding steady, according to a report released in May by the World Wildlife Fund, which indicated a slight increase. Scientists in Mexico reported a 35% increase in inhabited area, compared to last year.

While this is good news, Nicole Shimp, program specialist with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, said there’s still a long way to go.

“This is significant news, given the population saw a decrease last year,” said Shimp. “We are celebrating this news and hoping the trend can continue. Sadly, we still have much more work to do before the monarch population can be considered sustainable.”

The monarch is currently under consideration for listing as a threatened or endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The FWS recommends continued implementation of voluntary conservation, with a decision on listing to come in 2024.

Shimp and the team will display live monarch caterpillars and butterflies, while answering questions from visitors about monarch behavior and habitat. Educational YouTube videos will be played at the show, showing examples of monarch habitat.

The monarch team will provide samples of recent monarch publications from ISU Extension and Outreach, including “5 Ways to Help the Monarchs,” “Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Iowa,” and “Monarch Seed Mix.”

Farmers can help pollinators by participating in the Prairie Strip conservation project. Pioneered at Iowa State, these all-purpose buffers can be installed through or around a crop field, alongside waterways, or in a terrace channel.

Farmers and landowners can now apply for cost share to install prairie strips with the Conservation Reserve Program. With a width of 30 to 120 feet, prairie strips can reduce erosion, improve water quality, and provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. There are more than 250 sites with prairie strips nationwide.  Costs for this practice, known as CP43, may be as little as $7 per acre.

A similar approach, Establishing and Managing Pollinator Habitat on Saturated Riparian Buffers, is highlighted in a four-page resource from ISU Extension and Outreach that explains options, benefits and costs associated with enhancing riparian buffers with pollinator-friendly native plants.

For a digital connection to pollinators, check out the HabiTally mobile phone app. It’s designed to helps citizens voluntarily record basic information about their habitat to support monarch recovery. The app allows people to record their efforts on plots of all sizes, and it can also be used to record community projects, including locations such as churches and parks.

You can enter your own plot and also see data aggregated by state, including the number of habitat acres other states have reported. Developed in 2019 as a collaboration between Bayer and the Climate Corporation, with support from Iowa State’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, the app is available as a free download on iOS and Android devices from the App Store by searching HabiTally monarchs.

Shimp said people often think they need to own large tracts of land to help pollinators – but that’s not always the case. Roadway ditches, lawns and landscapes can all make ideal habitat if maintained properly.

Even those who do not own land can still help improve monarchs, through education and outreach to others.

“A lot of people have a strong interest in helping monarchs, but don’t really know how to get started,” said Shimp. “We hope our time at the show will help expose people to the resources and individuals who can help provide useful information, because there really are important things each of us can do.”

Shareable photo: Monarch butterflies on flowers.

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