Wildlife groups in Nebraska are on a mission to save monarch butterflies.
They’re looking for help from every gardener, farmer and landowner in the area.
“What we’re looking for is milkweed to be planted anywhere in the state of Nebraska it makes sense to plant it,’’ said Kristal Stoner, the wildlife diversity program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks. “All for the monarch butterfly.’’
The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium has the same goal.
Milkweed is the only thing that monarch caterpillars eat, and where adults lay their eggs. Because it was once considered a weed, milkweed has been eradicated across wide swaths of the U.S. through herbicide spraying and mowing.
To reverse that decline, wildlife groups want to add 125 million stems of milkweed in Nebraska alone by 2035. The Iowa consortium hopes to announce its goal this week. From points in Nebraska and east, the aim is 1.3 billion.
“People are planting from Nebraska to Pennsylvania,’’ Stoner said. “There is a huge push nationwide to restore monarchs and to increase their population.’’
The need is urgent.
Monarchs from breeding grounds east of the Rocky Mountains spend the winter in a small area of central Mexico. That’s where numbers have shown a steep decline. In 1996-97, monarchs covered about 44 acres in the trees of Mexico. In 2017-18, it was just 6.12 acres.
The insects stop in Texas on the way north, and many of their descendants head to the Midwest. They need milkweed plants to eat throughout the growing season.
Everyone can be part of the push to plant, Stoner said.
Backyard habitats are perfect, so gardeners can be involved in the effort. Farmers can install plants in pastures, and landowners can plant in roadside ditches. Garden centers can help the cause by making milkweed plants and seeds available to their customers.
Adult monarchs aren’t so picky. Flowers that bloom from June to the first frost provide the nutrients they need. Those pollinator-friendly and native plants also are crucial for other declining populations such as bees.
Stoner said groups involved in the project are seeing a tremendous response.
“The exciting thing about this,’’ she said, “is this is something everybody can participate in.’’