SMMPA Communities Join Fight to Save the Monarch Butterfly

SMMPA Communities Join Fight to Save the Monarch Butterfly

June 03, 2016

Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) announced an effort to create habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators in its eighteen member communities. Loss of habitat has resulted in an estimated 90% reduction in the eastern U.S. population of the iconic butterfly.

"Leveraging the power of community is what makes public power so effective, and we felt we could use this same approach in helping address the loss of habitat for Monarch and other critical pollinators," said Chris Schoenherr, Director of Agency and Government Relations at SMMPA. "We've come to understand that lots of small actions, right here in our communities will be the best way to save this important species."

SMMPA will initially help its member municipal utilities establish twenty-nine habitat sites in fourteen different communities in late spring. The sites are generally in the 200- 400 square foot range and will consist of milkweed plants, a variety of flowering nectar plants and educational signage. Milkweed is the main food source for monarch caterpillars, and nectar plants, such as flowers, provide nourishment for the adult butterflies. Local community groups, utility employees and school groups will help prepare, plant and maintain the sites. SMMPA expects to add additional sites this fall and in the spring and fall of 2017.

SMMPA partnered with Sand County Foundation in developing the program. Sand County Foundation has made addressing the loss of the monarch population a priority issue. In cooperation with Sand County Foundation, Syngenta, a leading agriculture company, is helping fund the SMMPA effort.

"The SMMPA model really gets to the heart of how we can effectively bring back the monarchs," said Neil Palmer, a consultant for Sand County Foundation. "We don't need thousand-acre sites -we need thousands of 100-200 square foot sites scattered across the Canada to Mexico monarch migration path, and SMMPA's member utilities sit right in that path."

SMMPA will acquire the necessary seeds and plants from Prairie Restorations of Princeton, Minnesota. Prairie Restorations "Sowing it Back Together" program uses native Minnesota plant species to help create habitat for pollinators like the monarch.

"Prairie Restorations has an excellent reputation in the creating pollinator habitat and has the expertise to help guide our member communities through the process," said Schoenherr. "That expertise coupled with their location in one of our member communities made them the perfect partner."

Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are a critical component of 30-40 percent of the food supply. Loss of habitat is the major factor in the decline of pollinator populations. The dramatic decrease in population could result in placing the monarch on the endangered species list.

"This is simply the right thing to do, but there is also a sound business case for SMMPA and its members to join this effort," said Schoenherr. "Agriculture and food processing are key industries in our member communities, so addressing the pollinator issue is important from an economic perspective. In addition, as utilities, we need access to rights-of-way for our infrastructure, and having the monarch on the endangered species list would make acquiring and maintaining that right-of-way much more expensive and complicated. Being part of the solution makes sense environmentally and economically."

Also beginning this summer, SMMPA member utilities will distribute pollinator seed packages, which will help individuals within the community join the effort. Each package will contain milkweed and nectar plant seeds, and instructions for creating an attractive pollinator habitat in your yard or garden.

"We really intend this to be a community effort and the seed packages will help make this a much broader partnership between the municipal utility and its customers," said Schoenherr. "As people learn about the plight of the monarch, they naturally want to become part of the solution and we believe this will be an easy way for them to do so."