Habitat

Our Objective

MRP seeks to rebuild native habitat on public and private land to levels sufficient to sustain pollinator populations, including the monarch butterfly.

We currently are focusing our efforts on a specific geography — Linn County, Iowa – but our future efforts will expand to other communities and counties.

Why?

One-third of the food humans consume is dependent on pollinators, according to a 2006 international study. Pollinators are essential to $24 billion in agricultural crops each year and more than 180,000 plant species.

They are critically important to a healthy ecosystem, since most flowering plants require help from pollinators to produce food or seed.

Yet their homes and food sources have disappeared and won’t return. Nearly 24 million acres of natural habitat had been converted to crop production between 2008 and 2011.

Our Native Habitat Projects

MRP’s habitat efforts reverse these disturbing trends by returning pollinator-friendly habitat, often on land that hasn’t been productive. With just our public land initiatives in Linn County, MRP expects to exceed Iowa State University’s necessary milkweed stem count to provide the habitat required to sustain monarchs.

MRP’s partnership with researchers at Iowa State University is essential to our efforts to expand pollinator habitat. Together, we pilot ideas, culling those that don’t meet our measures for success while documenting what does work.

We’ve dubbed our habitat efforts Pollinator Zones™ (PZs), which involve large and small tracts on both private and public land. Below are our PZ initiatives.

1,000 ACRE PLAN

This public-private endeavor is a partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids, City of Marion, and Linn County. It will restore 1,000 acres of public land in parks, trails and golf courses to rich pollinator habitat by 2020. MRP provides funding for seed and other supplies.

Over the last 15 years, well over half of the pollinator habitat in the United States has been eliminated.  Habitat loss is considered a major contributor to the population decrease of many pollinators, including bees and the North American migrating monarch butterfly. Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse.

Over five years (2017 to 2021), the goal is to convert 1,000 public acres from unproductive land to pollinator habitat. Public parks and golf courses are the primary recipients of the prairie plantings; other locations include storm water detention basins, utility department lands, airport lands, and road rights of way. 

You can see the new pollinator plantings in the following parks and golf courses: Bever Park, Beverly Park, Cherry Hill Park, Ellis Golf Course, Gardner Golf Course, Jones Golf Course, Lowe Park, Matsell Pine and Prairie Trail, Morgan Creek Park, Noelridge Park, Pinicon Ridge Park, Seminole Valley Park, Squaw Creek Park, Sun Valley Park, Tuma Skyhawks, Twin Pines Golf Course, Waldo’s Rock Park, and Wickiup Hill.

The 1,000 Acre project has put Cedar Rapids in the national spotlight.  The Iowa Economic Development Authority pitched the 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative to national media as an example of Iowa’s problem-solving attitude, culture of innovation, and collective community spirit that fosters public-private partnerships. Numerous national news outlets picked up the story – including Popular Science (hyperlink is https://www.popsci.com/Cedar-Rapids-Iowa-save-bee-pollinator) — which ultimately reached an audience of close to 72 million.

1,000 MILE PILOT

This partnership with Linn County Secondary Roads will convert 1,000 miles of roadside Rights of Way to pollinator habitat by 2022. Ditches are mowed, sprayed, and air-seeded by MRP employees, then maintained by county employees. County roadsides make up 46 percent of public lands in Iowa, and there are 2,200 ditch miles in Linn County alone.

The 1,000 Mile Pilot will place native habitat in 160- to 200-square-foot mini-prairies throughout a portion of Linn County secondary roadway ditches.  Iowa State University helped develop the native seed mix used in the pilot and will be testing and monitoring results during the four-year pilot.

This initiative is a local version of a national effort to improve pollinator habitats on transportation rights-of-way. “Secondary roadsides are the largest amount of underutilized land in Linn County,” says Rob Roman, Roadside Vegetation Manager for the Linn County Secondary Road Department.

“I’ve always liked using roadsides for wildlife habitat because it takes advantage of existing acres. The 1,000 Mile Pilot takes this to a new level by helping monarchs and pollinators directly—in a way that can be replicated,” says Joe McGovern, president of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. “This plan is a great example of partnering to make a difference, and I hope this model can be used all over Iowa.”

The pilot will begin in the southeastern quadrant of Linn County; an additional quadrant will be completed in each of the following three years. Linn County will provide long-term maintenance of the roadsides.

Like all prairie plantings, the first year of growth will result in few blooms. Instead the plants will spend their energy putting down good roots, and the land will be periodically mowed to reduce weed competition.

Residents will begin to see blooms in the second year, and by the third year, the native plants will become mature and dominate the site. At that time, the areas will require minimal mowing and maintenance, reducing long-term maintenance costs for the county.

Iowa State University students will study the efficacy of this process by monitoring the new green infrastructure for both stem counts and monarch egg counts. The pilot is expected to provide data to create recommendations for implementation of pollinator plots in other jurisdictions’ roadside management practices.

Miles of Linn County ditches getting new life

By Orlan Love

The Cedar Rapids Gazette

June 2, 2018

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/miles-of-linn-county-ditches-getting-new-life-20180602

Flyer about 1,000 Mile Pilot distributed to residents who live near planting sites
1000 miles – truck flyer.pdf

Seed Pantry & Giveaways

MRP’s milkweed and pollinator seed giveaways help landowners across Linn County create havens for pollinators. Expert volunteers counsel landowners on the best way to plant and maintain their prairies. For the Seed Pantry, Master Gardeners, the Cedar Rapids Garden Club, employee groups, and other volunteers help MRP gather local milkweed seeds and distribute them, at no cost, to the public. Their efforts provide locally grown seed for the 1,000 Mile Pilot.

Several studies have called the loss of milkweed in the Midwest the most important factor in the declining numbers of migrating monarch butterflies.  In the last 20 years, the population of monarch butterflies in the Midwest has decreased by more than 90 percent. The United States currently is studying whether to protect the monarch under the Endangered Species Act.

Because monarch butterflies lay eggs on milkweed and the plant is the only food monarch caterpillars eat, milkweed is a critical part of the monarch life cycle. 

Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, was one of the experts who selected the species to include in the pollinator seed mix, which includes 40 plant varieties that are native to Linn County. When planting a pollinator garden, horticulturists recommend using native plant species. This seed mix includes nectar-producing plants that bloom at various times through the season, so butterflies and bees always will find a food source.

The need for this ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach inspired this seed giveaway.  “We are inviting everyone in Linn County to join us in adding milkweed and pollinator habitat to the natural landscape in Linn County,” says Clark McLeod, co-founder of the Monarch Research Project.

“We will provide the seeds, and the people who pick up the seed will provide the hands and the land. The prairie seed is a special native seed mix, not available at a retail establishment. That’s also true for the cold-stratified milkweed seed, McLeod said. “If you want to grow milkweed this year from seed, please come out and get our seed.”

MRP posts information about future seed giveaways on its blog (hyperlink).

Heeding the call for monarchs: Free milkweed, pollinator seed giveaway today

The Cedar Rapids Gazette

May 12, 2018

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/community/heeding-the-call-for-monarchs-free-milkweed-pollinator-seed-giveaway-today-20180512

Pollinator seed planting instructions

Linn pollinator mix planting instructions.pdf

Milkweed seed planting instructions

Milkweed planting instructions.pdf

1,000 Landowners

Seed giveaways allow MRP to build a community of landowners willing to make changes on their own property to help pollinators. Our goal is for 1,000 landowners to accept this challenge. The annual Linn Landowner Forum—truly a call to action for property owners interested in conservation—connects landowners with experts and vendors who can provide guidance on restoring natural areas to create “green infrastructure.”

Across the country, native habitat is disappearing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly 24 million acres of native habitat were converted to crop production between 2008 and 2011. Concurrent with this decrease in native habitat are significant declines in insect populations. In the last 10 years, petitions were submitted to protect both bees and monarch butterflies under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Linn County organizations recognized these sweeping changes in our environment, and in 2016 several organized a free forum where Linn County landowners could learn about adding more native habitat to their land.

By 2018, the group that organized the annual forum expended to eight organizations: Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Linn County Conservation, Linn Soil and Water Conservation District, Monarch Research Project, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever, and Trees Forever

The goal of the forum is to educate and motivate landowners by providing presentations and interactive how-to sessions, as well as gathering vendors that can help with habitat projects.

Typically, the forum opens with a large group session with speakers, including a keynote address. After a break, attendees are then invited to attend break-out sessions on four or more topics. Around two dozen vendors typically are on site to consult with landowners participate.

If you’d like to be added to the Linn Landowner Forum email list, please email us your contact information. (for now, this can go to general emailbox)

Everyone can help in saving monarch butterflies

By Orlan Love

The Cedar Rapids Gazette

September 7, 2018

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/everyone-can-help-in-saving-monarch-butterflies-20180907