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Great River Energy’s Great Pollinator Endeavor

Aug 16, 2016


  • Conservation Stories

With monarch and other pollinator populations decreasing nationwide, awareness and support have increased drastically. Organizations and agencies of all types, citizen scientists and community members have been getting involved in the conservation of pollinators through habitat restoration, outreach efforts and participation in monitoring and research. Working together and building partnerships is the best path forward for monarch conservation. Great River Energy provides a great example of a highly successful partnership between corporate, agency, and community partners.

Great River Energy has partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the city of Elk River to restore 9 acres of pollinator friendly habitat – converting it from lawn to prairie! The land is located on Great River Energy’s Elk River campus, and includes both Great River Energy and MnDOT property. Located along one of the busiest roads in Minnesota (US Highway 10), this project creates the potential to reach a wide audience of travelers and beautify a major roadway.

The existing manicured lawn will be replaced by native, pollinator friendly forbs, grasses and trees. This habitat restoration will provide food and shelter for pollinators of all types. Work is beginning on the restoration this month. First on the list is removal of non-native or dying trees, then targeted herbicide spraying to stop the growth of non-native grasses. In the fall, the land will be seeded with both a cover crop of oats and rye, and prairie seeds, which will germinate in the spring. Native bur oak trees will be planted to replace removed trees. “This project fits our profile as both Energy City and Powered by Nature,” said Elk River City Council Member Jerry Olsen. “Economically, long term, it’s better. And in time, it will be extremely attractive,” states Olsen. The city of Elk River has been known as “Energy City” since 1997. The Minnesota Environmental Initiative chose it because of the city’s efficient energy resources offered to the community. Elk River has also been branded as a city “Powered by Nature.”

Becoming a part of the nationwide effort to restore monarch and pollinator habitat is driving communities like Elk River to step up to the challenge. While met with some initial resistance, the project is now widely accepted in the Elk River community as they learn about the beauty and benefits of this habitat. MnDOT, Great River Energy and Elk River each have pollinator habitat goals of their own, so this is a way for them to collaboratively achieve those goals with the added benefit of strengthening community partnerships.

Approximately five acres of the lawn is adjacent to MnDOT right-of-way.  “State roadways have acres and acres of habitat ideal for pollinators,” said MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle, “we should strive to build awareness of pollinator needs along our roadways. With careful planning, we can ensure that monarch butterflies and other creatures that pollinate will thrive, which ultimately benefits our food sources and us.” Minnesota is one of the states along the central flyway that is a part of the “Monarch Highway” initiative to restore habitat from north to south along the Interstate 35 corridor. Craig Poorker, Great River Energy’s manager of land rights, stated, “This project will protect ground water and our namesake river by greatly reducing use of herbicides and fertilizer. I grew up living near and exploring an oak savanna prairie northwest of Princeton and learned a lot just by observing. There was no shortage of monarch butterflies.” This local partnership and partnerships across the nation are working to restore monarch and pollinator populations to levels that would not be considered a shortage.

For more Information, please visit the Great River Energy’s website.

A rendering of what the prairie might look like once it is established. Graphic provided by Great River Energy.

A rendering of what the prairie might look like once it is established. Graphic provided by Great River Energy.


The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Photos provided by Great River Energy.