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Farmers can get monarch-saving money

A monarch butterfly lays eggs on a leaf. Monarch populations have been declining for two decades.(Photo by Ellen Starr, Natural Resources Conservation Service biologist)

By Forum News Service

Federal authorities are ready to give farmers in Minnesota and nine other states money to help save the iconic monarch butterfly.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it has $4 million for the program next year to help farmers and ranchers make changes on their land to help the butterfly that is declining in numbers.

"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," said Cathee Pullman, Natural Resources Conservation Service Minnesota state conservationist. "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."

Landowners in states making up the heart of the monarch migration path -- Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin -- may get more information on the program from their local USDA service center.

The orange and black butterfly migrates from Mexico to Canada and back each year.

Monarch numbers have declined significantly in the past two decades. The USDA says it is in part because agriculture and urban development have reduced the number of native plants, such as milkweed, on which their caterpillars can feed.

"Because monarch butterflies are always on the move, they need to have the right plants at the right time along their migration route," the USDA reports. "Caterpillars need to feed on milkweed to complete their life cycle, and adult butterflies need the right nectar producing plants in bloom for needed energy."

The effort announced Thursday would help landowners plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants. The plants could be in field borders, in buffers along waterways, around wetlands, in pastures and at other suitable locations.

Another well-known insect issue also would be helped by introducing milkweed and other plants: bee population declines.

Bees and other insects that pollinate plants would benefit from more milkweed, USDA says. Pollinators are vital for crops.

Today's estimated monarch population is 34 million. The Obama administration has set a goal of increasing monarch populations, which at one time hit a billion, back up to 225 million.

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