National Pollinator Week is coming up June 17-23, just in time for some good news on one of the nation’s winged friends.

With their populations in decline, the decision to place monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act has been on the table since 2014, when the first protection petition was filed. Thanks to an extension from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, researchers now have more time to study monarch populations and come to a consensus. The new deadline for a decision is Dec. 15, 2020.

For several years, conservationists have stressed the need for protections over monarch butterflies, which help pollinate a vast array of plants in America.

“Pollinators are vital to agriculture because 35 percent of the world’s food crop depends to some degree on pollinators,” said Chip Shilling, BASF Sustainability Strategy Manager. “Primary crop examples that many of us are familiar with include almonds, strawberries and citrus fruits. Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have abundant and affordable access to much of the food we eat.”

Throughout the past 20 years, a dramatic reduction of the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in Mexico and California has taken place, due to deforestation and herbicides removing the main food source for monarch caterpillars — milkweed.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, if the current trend continues, both monarch populations in California and Mexico will undergo migratory collapse within another 20 years. The western monarchs that migrate to California have suffered the greatest losses, with a population of 1 billion in the 1990s to today’s estimate of fewer than 30,000. Eastern monarchs that migrate to Mexico have fared better, but still have significant losses, from 1.2 billion to about 225 million in two decades.

Help is on the way

Fortunately for America’s brightly colored butterfly, there are initiatives already in place to help support the monarchs’ survival.

With Nebraska’s opportune location on the monarchs’ migratory flight path, many farmers and ranchers have begun utilizing non-crop acreage and CRP programs to plant milkweed on their land.

At the Midwest Messenger headquarters in Tekamah, Neb., construction is underway for a new pollinator garden, which will includes three varieties of milkweed for the migrating monarchs.

Designed by Nebraska Extension Educator Kathleen Cue, the garden will be a small-scale public park, complete with handicap-accessible walks, benches and signage identifying the more than 2,000 plants in the garden, which will support more than 50 species of other pollinators and insects. Included in the project plans is an insect hut, which will be nestled near the center of the garden.

The garden is located on a nearly quarter acre of unoccupied land directly north of the office building, and extends in a narrow strip in front of the building, as well.

Not only will the garden serve as a place for insects to home, but it will also function as an educational tool for other Nebraskans interested in building their own pollinator spaces.

The park will have brochures and signage that explain management practices, and visitors can learn more though self-guided tours or in more formal educational settings.

The Messenger’s pollinator garden took root from efforts by Midwest Messenger publisher Mike Wood, who collaborated with Burt County Extension Educator John Wilson on how to best utilize the open space to the benefit of the environment.

Numerous agencies have assisted with funding the project, including the City of Tekamah, Neb., the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and Nebraska Academy of Sciences, which are funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and the Lee Foundation — a grant program by Lee Enterprises, the Messenger’s parent company — as well as private donations.

To learn more about growing pollinator gardens in Nebraska, contact your local county Extension educator, or visit www.extension.unl.edu for a list of contacts and literary resources on pollinator habitats.

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.