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Metamorphosis: Changing the landscape for the better

Nov 01, 2016


  • Conservation Stories

This post is modified from a news article originally written by Tom Lindfors and Elizabeth Braatz on September 22, 2016, and republished with the permission of the New Richmond News. The original authors can be reached at

The word monarch comes from the Greek words monos -- alone or sole, and arkhein -- to rule. Translated to Latin, monarcha, means sole ruler or sovereign. For so many creatures, monarch is a metaphor including human beings, but only one creature has the distinction of being the monarch, a butterfly.

Possibly the most recognized and widely distributed butterfly in North America, the monarch’s beauty and grace belie its weighty responsibility as a pollinator, one of many species that play a critical role on farms and in gardens across the country.  After years of habitat reduction, the monarch finds itself on the brink of disaster, at the heart of a very real life and death struggle, the kind that makes headline news.

With the eastern population of monarchs reaching record low population numbers in recent years, monarchs are an obvious indicator of the threats many pollinators are facing. Loss of habitat across the U.S. is a major contributor to pollinator decline. Monarchs share the same habitats that support other pollinators that are critical to supplying the food on our tables.

In 2015, in response to the declining numbers of monarchs and other pollinators, the US Fish and Wildlife Service office located at the St. Croix Wetland Management District (WMD) in New Richmond, Wisconsin joined the US Forest Service (USFS) Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and the National Park Service (NPS) St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, to formally work together to protect pollinating species.

The three conservation agencies engaged dozens of nonprofits, companies, and governmental organizations through a local Pollinator Resolution. This resolution encourages groups to promise to take action to help pollinators, whether through an educational presentation at the next club meeting or by creating a huge stretch of habitat on company land. The idea was very successful. Within a year, more than 100 organizations had pledged to help pollinators. Diverse partnerships such as this are evidence of the all-hands-on-deck approach that will be necessary to restore the monarch population.

The pledge

What do the New Richmond School District, the Hungry Turtle Institute, ArtReach St. Croix and the Andersen Corporation have in common? Each of these organizations, as well as nearly 100 more, have mobilized behind the monarch and signed the Pollinator Resolution promising to take action to help pollinators like the monarch.

Award-winning New Richmond High School agriscience instructor Rachel Sauvola has pioneered the practice of pairing her students’ hands-on learning experiences with the challenge of solving real world problems in the arenas of food science, production agriculture and animal science. When her district signed the pledge in 2015, she embraced it as an opportunity to educate students on the importance of pollinators and habitat, and to cultivate and plant native plants at habitat restoration sites. For the past seven years her students have been involved in growing plants, including pollinator attractors like lupine, from seed provided by the St. Croix WMD. USFWS Wildlife Biologist Chris Trosen has been a big help to Sauvola and her students. This past spring, as part of Service Learning Day activities, Sauvola’s students completed pollinator projects at several locations around New Richmond.

“My classes and I collaborated with the city to write a grant for a pollinator project at Hatfield Park and Freedom Park. Students developed a budget and worked with local nurseries to get plants. We installed bat, bird, and butterfly houses out at those two parks and planted plants at two sites around another house.  We also had a different group of 50 students who planted pollinator-friendly plants at the Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area,” said Sauvola. Sauvola’s latest project involves building a school farm which will employ a beehive to help pollinate food for school lunches.

Habitat preservation

In 2010, Kari Wenger and Peter Henry founded Resilient Northern Habitats (RNH) with the intention of creating community around the values of habitat preservation, healthy farming practices and food-system resilience. In 2013, RNH bought an old car dealership on Main Street in Amery and converted it into a Food Hub housing The Hungry Turtle Institute, a 501(c)(3) that advocates for local food and small farms, a farm to table restaurant, The Hungry Turtle Farmers Co-op, a sizable teaching and demonstration kitchen, and an art gallery.

“As ecological farmers and partners, our mission starts with habitat. We got into farming because it supports habitat and people, too. We are very concerned and very aware of the pollinator situation. We’ve had years where crops haven’t done well,” explained Wenger.

The Hungry Turtle Seed Farm Initiative also benefits pollinators. “The idea is to come up with crops that grow rapidly and to help farmers grow these crops, and then teach them to start seed saving themselves. It works great for pollinators. We’re trying to grow regional flowers and grow on a landscape level rather than a garden level. It provides just that much more pollinators,” said Wenger.

ArtReach St. Croix’s mission is to connect the St. Croix Valley community and the arts. The nonprofit's unique interpretation of the Pollinator Resolution centered around the formation of numerous Cli-Fi (Climate Fiction) book clubs throughout the St. Croix Valley. Books are selected intentionally to encourage discussion about the power of literature to address “vexing environmental questions of our time.”  For their book related to the Pollinator Resolution, they chose “Flight Behavior,” a novel by author Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver’s story concerns a woman on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain -- the appearance of millions of monarchs. “Flight Behavior” explores the unforeseen impact of global climate change on the ordinary citizens of one rural community.

The roles of many

In her role as Director of Corporate and Community Affairs for Andersen Corporation in Bayport, Minn., Susan Roeder is responsible for public relations, philanthropy and volunteers. Her long-standing relationship with Chris Stein, superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, facilitated her introduction to USFWS Manager Tom Kerr, and the Pollinator Resolution.

“I went to our facilities team, great people who manage the 100 acres that is our Bayport property, and they were all eager. It was not a hard sell by any means. Then Xcel stepped to the table within days, so we met as a group. A couple people from Xcel, our facilities team and myself from Andersen, along with Tom Kerr and Caitlin Smith, a biologist that works with Tom, walked the whole property. It was so fun. We had shovels and buckets. We went to all corners of Xcel and Andersen. Caitlin would put a shovel into the dirt and tip it over and show us things we didn’t know were there. She gave us back a seven-page summary of the property and what she’d seen and she explained what the short- and long-term opportunities were for us. It became the working document for Andersen for how we’re going to contribute. So not only have we said we will commit the property to the pollinator pledge, Xcel did the same. That makes a really big footprint between the two of us,” said Roeder.

Andersen has shared the resolution and their plan with their 11,000 employees. Then last spring, they provided employees with milkweed they could plant in their own backyards. “So we have taken that seven-page document which we received just about this time last year, and our facilities team internalized it and came back with a proposed multi-year planting and maintenance schedule. What I like about it (the plan and the pledge) is, it’s doable, it’s practical, and it’s absolutely the right thing to do. We have appreciated the opportunity to be educated on it. It’s been an honor and a privilege to work on this and to get to know these people and pay it forward,” said Roeder.

Paying it forward

Whether it’s through a regional initiative like this story’s pollinator pledge, through a national campaign or through individual efforts, everyone has the opportunity to participate in monarch and pollinator conservation. Find out more about how you can support pollinators today by visiting the Monarch Joint Venture’s Get Involved page, and do you part to pay it forward for future generations.

Multiple monarchs search for nectar on wild flowers at the USFWS Spring Meadow Waterfowl Production Area in Alden Township. Photo by Tom Lindfors.

More than 50 New Richmond High School students planted pollinator-friendly prairie plugs they had cultivated in the campus greenhouse at the Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area as part of Service Learning Day in 2016. Photo by Tom Lindfors.


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. Header photo by Tom Lindfors: students of Rachel Sauvola’s class at New Richmond High School planted pollinator-friendly prairie plugs they had cultivated in the campus greenhouse on USFWS property as part of Service Learning Day in 2015.