The plight of the monarch butterfly has spurred action in North Iowa as groups work to save this beloved species.

Monarch numbers have plummeted 90 percent since the 1990s. Honeybees, as well as native bees such as bumblebees are also struggling.

The Lime Creek Nature Center’s Monarch Mania program’s main focus is conservation and education on a local level for monarch butterflies and pollinators. The program is funded by the Maxine Sanberg Memorial Fund.

This year the program funded plantings at two schools in Cerro Gordo County. Mason City Alternative High School planted a pollinator/rain garden with 360 plants of 20 species.

Garner Hayfield Ventura Intermediate School planted a pollinator garden with 284 plants of 20 species.

Roosevelt, Hoover, and Harding elementary schools in Mason City; and Clear Creek elementary in Clear Lake; all received plants to supplement their pollinator gardens that were started last spring through the program.

The Monarch Mania program also funded 288 plants of 16 species to add to the rain/pollinator garden next to the Clear Lake Yacht Club in Clear Lake. This garden is managed by the Clear Lake Enhancement and Restoration Project.

The Clear Lake Jaycees planted a pollinator garden at the welcome sign on the east side of Clear Lake (near McDonald’s). This planting was funded by the Clear Lake Park and Recreation Department and Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation.

All of these gardens have been registered on the Monarch Mania website, bringing the total number of pollinator garden registrations to 65.

The Mason City Parks Department has seeded a five-acre pollinator garden at Georgia Hanford Park, and North Iowa Area Community College is planning a seeding on their grounds for pollinators (both funded by donations).

The Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board (CGCCB) has seeded or plans to seed diverse pollinator mixes at the following areas: Kuhn Wildlife Area, Bluebill Wildlife Area, Willow Creek Preserve, Kingfisher Hollow, Goranson Access, Mallard Marsh, Mike Zack Wildlife Area, and Spring Creek Preserve for a total of 32.5 acres of new pollinator habitat! The seed for these plantings was provided at no cost to the CGCCB through a pollinator habitat program funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Students at West Fork Middle School and Mason City High School; and volunteers with the Garden Club of North Iowa started swamp, butterfly, and common milkweed plants from seed to be used in local pollinator plantings. Milkweeds, the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, are an essential component of monarch conservation.

The Lime Creek Nature Center is also participating in a statewide project entitled “Milkweed Matters”. For this program, volunteers roll small balls of clay and add milkweed seed to create seed balls.

The seed balls will be distributed to RAGBRAI riders to toss into road ditches as they pedal their way across Iowa. The seed balls will germinate next spring, creating milkweed food sources for monarch caterpillars.

In Cerro Gordo County scout groups, church groups, garden clubs, and other volunteers have already made around 9000 seed balls. The goal of is to have 10,000 seed balls ready to be handed out by the Swaledale Garden Club to RAGBRAI riders as they pass through Swaledale.

All of these efforts are a result of great concern for the populations of monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators that continue to decline in numbers. A great place to find out how to get involved with pollinator conservation is the Monarch Mania website: www.monarchmania.com.

It is not difficult to get a pollinator garden started at home or on the farm. Monarch Mania’s goal is to register a total of 100 gardens by the end of 2017. Find out how to start and register a garden on the Monarch Mania website, or call the Lime Creek Nature Center at 641-423-5309.

Todd Von Ehwegen is conservation education manager for the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board.

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