A leading cause for the decline of monarchs is loss of habitat, especially in the agricultural heartland of the Midwestern United States. The removal of natural vegetation between farm fields and the widespread adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops within fields has dramatically reduced the presence of milkweed and forbs within the agricultural landscape. Unless we succeed in restoring a patchwork of small islands of habitat compatible with profitable farming operations across the Midwest, the future of the phenomenon of monarch migration will remain at risk.
Many farmers are willing to maintain habitat in the nooks and crannies of their farms. However, they want to see evidence these patches actually support the intended species, and their attention must remain focused on their primary job of crop production. Likewise, energy companies seek to develop habitat at facility sites and gas or electricity transmission corridors across rural areas, so long as it does not compromise operational efficiency and safety standards.
Sand County Foundation is engaging agricultural and utility industries to improve vegetation management for the benefit of monarchs as associated pollinator species. Their long-term goal is to stimulate voluntary, cost-effective habitat restoration by private land managers as an alternative to regulatory requirements. One strategy for reaching this goal is to build the capacity of students in high school agricultural education programs to develop wildlife habitat in ways that are practically and economically acceptable to farmers and utility companies.
With support from MJV, Sand County Foundation will support high school students and educators participating in FFA (formerly known as “Future Farmers of America”) to enhance and monitor habitat on farms and utility facilities in Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Specific objectives are to:
- Engage students with interests in both farming and invertebrate wildlife conservation to facilitate successful on-the-ground habitat projects in cooperation with commercial farmers and utility companies
- Provide resources to high school agriculture educators to incorporate monarch and pollinator habitat subject matter into their curriculum
- Make it easier for farmers and utility companies to create habitat within their operations through support by FFA students and chapters
- Develop leadership among youth in agricultural communities to evaluate and promote the integration of monarch and pollinator habitat on working lands
This effort will apply established milkweed propagation and citizen science methodologies to install and monitor habitat on cooperating private farms or energy facilities. To establish habitat restoration sites, this project will leverage financial incentives provided by partnering conservation organizations and agencies, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service.