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This inter-seeding is being operated by Gregg Pattison, private lands biologist in Iowa. Pattison is seeding (sowing) more milkweed seeds and enhancing this pre-existing monarch habitat. Photo by USFWS.

This inter-seeding is being operated by Gregg Pattison, private lands biologist in Iowa. Pattison is seeding (sowing) more milkweed seeds and enhancing this pre-existing monarch habitat. Photo by USFWS.

Iowa Establishes Stepping Stones for Monarch Migration

The monarch butterfly has found some friends in Iowa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners Program) in Iowa and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Private Lands Program (Private Lands Program) are working together through an innovative partnership to support this iconic and declining species. By joining forces with private landowners, the Partners Program and Private Lands Program completed 50 habitat projects in 27 Iowa counties in 2015 to bolster monarch habitat by 520 acres, all within a few short months.

The projects for developing monarch habitat were made possible when Service Director Dan Ashe dedicated $2 million to address national concerns for the monarch butterfly. State Coordinator of the Partners Program in Iowa, Doug Helmers, received some of this funding to support the monarch butterfly through habitat restoration.

The important question that was asked before putting these dollars on-the-ground: Where should we focus habitat restoration in Iowa?

Many monarch butterfly scientists have emphasized a need to provide a north - south migration corridor of available habitat. This idea has been dubbed the Monarch Flyway and it roughly overlaps Interstate-35. The Monarch Flyway extends from Lake Superior to the Mexico border at Laredo, Texas, and Iowa is at the epicenter of this migratory route.

"The Iowa I-35 Monarch Flyway Initiative has been a wonderful partnership between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Service to restore and enhance monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat with private landowners and County Conservation Boards,” said Helmers. “We are developing a series of stepping stones of habitat for summer breeding and fall migrating monarchs in central Iowa."

These stepping stones are just like the stepping stones along a path. Each stepping stone helps monarchs get from one spot to another and in this case, from one available habitat to another. Last year, we worked together in three ways to create habitat stepping stones across the monarch flyway in Iowa. One example of the work done was the creation of schoolyard habitats, places that provide monarch butterflies with food and refuge. Importantly, these are outdoor classrooms where students learn about pollinators, like monarchs, through interpretive signs and places to observe them.

A second kind of stepping stone are County Conservation Board lands which are county owned for public outdoor recreation and conservation. By working with County Conservation Boards to restore important habitat, the two partners were able to further help provide monarchs a perpetually protected and publicly owned stepping stone on their migration route.

A significant and third type of stepping stone is our partnerships with private landowners who want to restore their former agriculture land into a wildlife habitat. Once a private landowner makes a decision to complete a project with the financial and technical assistance of wildlife professionals, they agree to continuously manage their land for 10 years. This agreement can be seen as a 10-year stepping stone for monarch habitat.

For these projects to be successful in providing habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, the two partners used a diverse native seed mix. These seeds were purchased as a result of a resourceful partnership between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Native Seed Growers Association. This partnership is particularly important for monarchs and other wildlife because the Iowa Native Seed Growers Association donates five percent of all seed sales to a fund shared equally between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Pheasants Forever which then can be spent on projects that receive a special Habitat Check-Off Certificate from the Private Lands Program.

“These funds go directly towards purchasing more native seed for native prairie projects,” said Kelly Smith biologists for the Private Lands Program. "This sustainable cycle of funds helps the Private Lands Office remain ahead of the monarch initiative.”

With the seed revenue contributions to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Helmers was able to match the Private Lands Program one-to-one for a sum of $150,000. These funds completed 50 projects that enriched 520 acres of prairie habitat for the Monarch Flyway in Iowa.

What do these numbers mean?

Through the power of partnerships, planting an acre of native seed mix only cost $288, not including the in-kind efforts of landowners and biologists to prepare the land for seeding. Compared to prairie restoration projects not using seed mix from the Iowa Native Seed Growers Association, this is a reduced cost. The native seed mix includes species such as butterfly milkweed, New England aster, purple cone flower and other prairie plants well suited to the climate and growing conditions of Iowa and will continuously bloom throughout the monarch migration from May through October.

What does the future hold for Iowa, the Partners Program and Iowa Private Lands Program?

Helmers and the Private Lands Program are not done creating stepping stones in Iowa for monarchs. In fact, staff from our Partners Program and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will continue last year’s success into 2016 with creating schoolyard habitats for students, working with County Conservation Boards to restore prairie habitats and wildlife management areas, and seeking out more private landowners interested in creating monarch and wildlife habitat in their own backyards.

Learn more about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/partners/

And the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Private Lands Program:
http://www.iowadnr.gov/Conservation/Wildlife-Landowner-Assistance

By Alejandro Morales
Regional Office - External Affairs

Thanks to our partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Private Lands Office, the monarch butterfly will have more available habitat through the Monarch Flyway. Photo by Doug Helmers/USFWS.

Thanks to our partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Private Lands Office, the monarch butterfly will have more available habitat through the Monarch Flyway. Photo by Doug Helmers/USFWS.

A restored and enhanced monarch butterfly habitat found within the Monarch Flyway in Iowa. Photo by Gregg Pattison/USFWS.

A restored and enhanced monarch butterfly habitat found within the Monarch Flyway in Iowa. Photo by Gregg Pattison/USFWS.


Last updated: February 4, 2016