Midwestern States Plan To Plant A Billion 'Weeds' To Save The Monarch Butterfly

The existence of the monarch butterfly could depend on it.

Insects aren't always at the top of everyone's favorites list. However, as part of our delicate ecosystem, their presence is crucial.  The monarch butterfly, an important pollinator,is in danger of becoming "quasi-extinct." Midwestern states, which are along the migration path of the monarchs when they head to Mexico during the winter months, are committing to helping to grow a plant once thought to be a gardening nuisance: milkweed.

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Milkweed happens to be the only food source for monarch butterflies and, according to the Press of Atlantic City, the plant has nearly been eradicated in the region and precipitating an 80 percent drop in the monarch butterfly population over the past 20 years. The drastic drop in the insect's population has prompted groups like Canadian conservation nonprofit the David Suzuki Foundation to call for the butterfly species to be put on the endangered list, though that hasn't happened yet.

However, the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has issued a plan, called the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy, in which Midwestern states hope to plant 1.3 billion new milkweed stems over the next 20 years. 

A monarch butterfly perched on a milkweed plant. Shutterstock / smilesbevie.

Landowners, farmers and gardeners in states such as Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri are being encouraged to plant milkweed, with Nebraska looking to plant 125 million stems by 2035 and Iowa hoping to plant between 127 million and 188 million. 

"Iowa falls entirely within the monarch's northern breeding core," Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said in a release, per The Ames Tribune. "This means that every patch of milkweed habitat added in Iowa counts, and Iowa is perfectly situated to lead the way in conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly. The recovery cannot succeed without Iowa."

Though the focus is on the Midwest, there's hope to have the plants extend even further east. "People are planting from Nebraska to Pennsylvania," Kristal Stoner, the wildlife diversity program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks, told the Omaha World-Herald. "There is a huge push nationwide to restore monarchs and to increase their population."

Cover image via Shutterstock / Nancy Bauer.

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