Growing up on our family farm in rural Hazel Green, there were things we just took for granted. When I was a boy I’d go out to the pasture to bring the cows in for milking and would always see an abundance of Brown-eyed Susans, daisies, and milkweed throughout the pasture and along the fencerows. There would always be blue and yellow butterflies, bumblebees, and monarch butterflies everywhere. Little did I know as a boy the relationship monarch butterflies have with milkweed. Monarch reproduction is dependent on milkweed, the only viable food source for the butterfly’s larvae.
Today, modern land use and management actions, weather, and habitat loss have reduced milkweed’s presence to a fraction of what it was when I was a boy. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has reported the grim statistic that since 1990, about 970 million monarch butterflies have vanished. Only about 30 million remain, and the FWS has been petitioned to list the monarch under the Endangered Species Act. When I think of endangered species I think of whooping cranes or the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker, not the monarch.
Your statewide electric co-op organization is pitching in to help.
Most readers of this column live in a unique location,
because we are in the heart of the monarch’s migration corridor from Mexico. Beginning in April through the upper Midwest and in southern Canada by early June, several monarch generations breed until the southward migration begins by September. The first monarchs reach Mexico by late October. The dramatic decline in their numbers is a major conservation concern but fortunately, unlike many other species, monarch populations can respond very quickly to habitat improvement.
Sand County Foundation is focused on enabling private landowners to realize their full potential as conservationists and profitable stewards of the natural resources in their care. Through its partnerships and initiatives, Sand County Foundation works to ensure a future in which private landowners have the inspiration and freedom to improve the environment while responsibly producing food and fiber for a growing population. Now, the foundation is assembling a partnership bringing together right-of-way holders, private farmland owners, science and conservation groups, and state and federal agencies. This partnership will build a network of habitat patches that, taken together, can help reinforce the eastern monarch butterfly migration corridor.
I’m pleased to say the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association is a partner and throughout this year will be working with Sand County Foundation to see how we can help restore monarch habitat. We’ll work with your local electric cooperative to see how we can make a positive difference. We envision habitat being created around co-op service centers, community solar gardens, solar farms, utility rights-of-way, landscaping at co-op facilities, and much more. We’ll seek to bring in more partners to help create each habitat location. Groups like local FFA chapters can provide the manpower on land provided by the cooperative or its members.
Have a look at your own fencerow to see if you could plant milkweed and help the monarchs bounce back. And please stay tuned to the progress of this partnership as we’ll cover it in this magazine going forward. We hope to help assemble all the resources necessary for interested members to play a part in this important habitat restoration, at their local cooperative or in their own backyard.