NSAC's Blog

New Initiative to Help Farmers Help Monarchs

November 13, 2015

On Thursday, November 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) announced the availability of $4 million to provide food and habitat for monarch butterflies in the Midwest and southern Great Plains. This new conservation effort will aid farmers and ranchers in providing food and habitat for monarch butterflies in 10 states (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin) that are at the heart of the butterfly’s migration route.

monarch map

Image credit: USDA

The monarch is known for its annual, multi-generational migration from Mexico to as far north as Canada, but they depend on milkweed to lay their eggs along the journey. Unfortunately, monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, which provide critical food for their caterpillars.

NRCS Chief Jason Weller highlighted the important role for farmers and ranchers to play in addressing the decline of this critical species.

“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. 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.”

Farm Bill Programs Provide Habitat for Migration

The $4 million that will enable producers to support this critical habitat in the targeted states will come from a variety of programs from the 2014 Farm Bill. For fiscal year (FY) 2016, NRCS will make $2 million available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and $2 million available through the former Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) (now consolidated into the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program ACEP)) for habitat improvements on existing easements. In addition to the $4 million through EQIP and WRP, there will be enhancements relevant to monarch habitat available through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which will be available nationwide through CSP in FY 2016.

Producers in regions that are not targeted by the monarch effort can also apply for conservation assistance to benefit monarch butterflies and many other pollinators, as, in addition to the CSP enhancements, there are also more than three dozen conservation practices are available through EQIP that can potentially provide pollinator benefits.

Conservation for Butterflies is a Win for Farmers, Too

Milkweed and other nectar-rich plants not only provide food for the monarchs, but when included along field borders, in buffers along waterways or around wetlands, and in pastures, they provide a number of agricultural benefits. These plants support other pollinators such as honey bees, which are vital to agriculture, and provide homes for beneficial insects that control the spread of pests. Conservation improvements through buffer habitats and better rangeland and pasture management practices also reduce erosion and increase soil health.

Additional Funding through EQIP for Honey Bee Habitat

In addition to the recently announced monarch funding, NRCS is also engaged in a three-year honey bee conservation effort in the Midwest and the Northern Plains. Last month, USDA announced the availability of another $4 million in funding through EQIP for landowners in Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin to make bee-friendly conservation improvements to their land, such as planting cover crops, wildflowers or native grasses and improving management of grazing lands. These six states are targeted as they are home to more than 70 percent of commercially managed honey bees in the country.

Learn more about the Monarch Habitat Development Project and other pollinators, and read the announcement of monarch funding here.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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