10-state NRCS project will improve monarch habitats

10-state NRCS project will improve monarch habitats

USDA will provide funding in 2016 to protect food and habitat for monarch butterflies

USDA on Thursday announced a new conservation effort to help ag producers provide food and habitat for monarch butterflies in a 10-state area including the Midwest and southern Great Plains.

Related: Ag participates in Midwest monarch conservation meeting

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service will lead the effort, investing $4 million in 2016 to help combat the iconic species' decline.

Monarchs are known for their annual, multi-generational migration from central Mexico to as far north as Canada. Monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants like milkweed – the sole source of food for monarch caterpillars.

A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower. Butterflies are one of nature’s many pollinators for flowers and crops and are crucial in production for fruits and vegetables. USDA photo by Forest Service.

NRCS Associate Chief Leonard Jordan announced the new effort in Kansas City, Mo., at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters' conference. Missouri is one of the 10 targeted states, along with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help producers and conservation partners plant milkweed and nectar-rich plants along field borders, in buffers along waterways or around wetlands, in pastures and other suitable locations.

NRCS also help producers manage their pastures in ways that increase critical populations of milkweed and nectar plants while also improving the health of their rangelands.

"These once-common butterflies are growing less familiar, and we know private lands will continue to play a crucial role in aiding the recovery of this species that serves as an indicator of ecosystem health," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. "America's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are stewards of the land, and this effort helps them make voluntary improvements that benefit working lands and monarchs."

Environmental Quality Incentives Program and remaining funds from the former Wetlands Reserve Program provide funding for the project.

Related: Plant Milkweeds For Monarch Butterflies?

NRCS accepts EQIP and CSP applications from producers on a continuous basis. Producers interested in participating should contact their local USDA service center to learn more. WRP funds will be used to enhance monarch habitat on existing wetland easements.

NRCS says the projects will also benefit conservation and wildlife; Appropriate buffer habitats and better rangeland and pasture management practices reduce erosion, increase soil health, inhibit the expansion of invasive species and provide food and habitat for insects and wildlife.

Producers not in the regions targeted by this effort are also eligible for assistance to make conservation improvements to their land that can benefit monarch butterflies and many other pollinators, such as honey bees and native bees. More than three dozen conservation practices offered by NRCS can provide benefits to pollinators.

Source: NRCS/USDA

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