The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium - a partnership of 40 organizations including farmer and conservation groups, state agencies, utility companies, and Iowa State University - has set a goal of 480,000 acres to be devoted to monarch butterfly habitat in the state by 2038.
Last year, Harrison County REC met with the Harrison County Conservation Board (HCCB) to talk about the Monarch Migration with the preservation of pollinator species, and how Harrison County Conservation was making efforts to restore native prairie habitats. This year, we followed up with Thad Pothast, the Natural Resource Technician from HCCB to see how their project is progressing.
HCCB originally began the project to create prairie habitats in 2012. They have done many reconstruction projects to help create more prairie pockets of Iowa native plants into their parks. Harrison County Conservation Board not only has prairie habitats at Willow Lake, but they also have 17 park and wildlife areas with many of them utilizing spaces for prairie habitat conversions. When asking Thad about milestones in this project, he commented that it is still an ongoing process but he is pleased that he is now starting to see plants that are native to Iowa, back where they are supposed to be. “Iowa was once covered by 75% prairie, but today, Iowa has less than 1/10 of 1% of that prairie system left.”
Some might ask why pollinators, such as monarch butterflies or bees, are important. The main reason is that our grocery stores would look far different without them. 1/3 of our food options are dependent on pollination. This can include apples, pears, strawberries, onions, avocados, grapes, tomatoes, coffee and more. In addition, plants such as alfalfa, which feed our livestock, also use pollinators to grow and thrive. So what can we do to help? Thad suggests that people can start with simple landscaping pockets to promote more pollinator friendly plant species. “Hard to mow spaces in your back yard makes great spots for Iowa native wildflowers.” It is also important to know where your landscaping plants are coming from, and utilize plants that are native to this area.
While a wildflower from Texas might look just as pretty in your landscape, its blooming times are different because of the ecosystem it was created in. This means that your flower might not bloom at the right time that the pollinator needs it. Thad comments, “Pheasants Forever is a great resource for people looking to find local, native seeds for their projects at home.” In addition, Thad and Harrison County Conservation Board frequently work with local land owners wanting to start small prairie conversions of their own and are more than willing to help those looking for advice on how to start.