Iowa Agricultural Department looks to become leader in monarch h - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa Agricultural Department looks to become leader in monarch habitat

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The state of Iowa is already a leader in corn and soybean production but, now, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship wants to add milkweed to that list.

On Monday, the department announced a goal to establish up to 830,000 acres of monarch habitat by 2038. That comes in direct response to the dwindling number of monarch butterflies. 

"That population has seen about an 80-percent reduction over the last 20 years, which means it has the potential to end up as a threatened, or even an endangered, species," said Meaghan Anderson, a field agronomist with the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offices.

Within the monarch habitats, the state hopes to grow 188-million new milkweed stems. Milkweed is essential to the butterfly's survival.

"In the case of the monarch, it's the only plant that it will lay eggs on. That's it. So, if you have no milkweed, you have no monarchs," said Clark McLeod, Co-Founder of the Monarch Research Project in Linn County.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, Iowa falls directly in the monarch's breeding grounds.

Restoring monarch habitats is something the Monarch Research Project has already started to implement in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding areas of Linn County.

"We're actually planting strips of habitat in the right-of-ways. In fact, 1,000 miles of ditch just in Linn County," McLeod said. "We think that we have a good plan we'll that, in 4 years, we'll have 1.5 million stems."

Anderson said the state has seen a decrease in milkweed in the last 20 years. She said some of that comes from less of it growing in crop ground, due to fertilizers.

"Milkweed does not persist in the fields, which is good for farmers because that means we don't have weed issues like we used to.  But it means we need to find other areas to be able to plant this milkweed," Anderson said.

She said there's still a lot of area in the state where milkweed can be incorporated without causing issues for crops, such as along the outside of the fields, near waterways, terraces, right-of-ways and roadsides.

McLeod added that anyone with land can also convert some parts of the land to habitat, to help achieve the state's goal. 

Anderson said the goal, though lofty, is necessary.

"There's a lot of groups behind this, supporting this, looking for areas where we can establish this type of habit without disturbing the current crop ground. Especially because we really do need to send an increase in this population, because it's really suffering," she said.

The effort is a statewide, but voluntary one. More information on how to get involved with monarch conservation can be found here. Iowa State Extension and Outreach will hold a field day on March 29 about pollinator and and prairie establishments

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