Implementing Projects Big and Small to
Benefit Monarch Butterflies in Northern Wisconsin
BY TED KOEHLER, ASHLAND FWCO
Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering sites in Mexico where they wait until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. Due to a loss of habitat, the monarch butterfly population has been declining.
The Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) has been doing its part this summer to help with monarch habitat and education. Multiple small and large projects are currently taking place to benefit monarch butterflies and other pollinators. On the habitat restoration front, we have been involved in everything from small scale rain gardens at our office to landscape level initiatives in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). We have also helped educate many kids and adults through school monarch tagging events and educational habitat installation at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.
When our building owner wanted to install rain gardens to catch runoff from parking areas, he asked staff from the federal agencies housed in our building to help. Ulf Gafvert from the National Park Service and Ted Koehler from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) helped through planning and installation assistance. The USFWS also provided additional milkweed seed to plant in the rain gardens to benefit monarchs. Later this summer, monarch butterflies, bumble bees and many other pollinating species used our new rain gardens. When multiplied by potentially millions of other small projects at business, private yards and other locations throughout the country, even small projects can make a difference.
The office is involved in many other larger scale projects to benefit pollinators through our Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Coastal, and National Fish Passage Programs. Working with private and public landowners we are incorporating practices to benefit monarchs into our wetland and upland restoration projects. This includes planting common milkweed in upland locations and swamp milkweed in the wetlands. Also, where appropriate, swamp and common milkweed are being planted in disturbed soil on our fish passage projects.
The Ashland FWCO is also involved in a landscape scale restoration project with the USFS and the USFWS Iron River National Fish Hatchery. Working through the Coastal Program – Great Lakes, the Ashland FWCO is assisting the USFS to enhance 2,000 – 4,000 acres of pine-barrens and pollinator habitat in the Moquah Barrens Habitat Management Area. Funding has been provided from the USFWS to the USFS to hire two native seed collector contractors. The contractors are currently working under the direction of the USFS, Washburn Ranger District Botanist Matt Bushman during the months of September and October 2015. The native seed currently being collected will be planted in the Moquah Barrens in 2015 and 2016 in order to provide additional nectar sources to monarchs and other pollinators.
An additional component to the Moquah Barrens landscape project is working with the USFWS Iron River National Fish Hatchery to restore and enhance approximately 250 acres of barrens and open pollinator habitat on hatchery land. The Iron River National Fish Hatchery property lies directly adjacent to the USFS Moquah Barrens management area. The USFWS is working cooperatively with the Forest Service to fold some of the hatchery’s landholdings into their barrens landscape management activities. This action will benefit pollinators as well as many grassland dependent migratory birds by providing a better link to the open farm lands west of the USFS boundary.
On the education front we have been involved in educational plantings at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center as well as assisting with a monarch tagging event at the Washburn High School. Plantings at the visitor center will help educate the public on the plight of pollinators and offer on-the-ground examples of solutions every person can take, no matter the size of area they have to work with.
Finally, the Ashland FWCO has recently partnered with the Washburn High School Ecology Club to build on efforts which they have undertaken on their own initiative for the last two years. The Washburn High School Ecology Club under the guidance of their teacher-advisor Vicki Aldritt has planted their own Monarch Oasis. According to Vicki “the inspiration for the garden came from watching the NOVA special Flight of the Butterflies. After I saw this program I thought that I should do something to help. I spoke to the superintendent of our school and asked if a butterfly garden could be installed at the edge of a field near the high school parking lot. The biology teacher and I worked preparing the site, a local native plant nursery, Wildflower Woods, donated all the plants and students planted the garden. Students now monitor larva and tag migrating monarchs”. A tagging event was held September 11th in which elementary school students learned about the current plight of the monarch and participated with tagging and releasing many butterflies. Expansion of the school’s garden and getting more kids involved will build on both the school’s and USFWS’s goals concerning monarch butterflies for years to come.