- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

AMES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa group has devised a strategy to keep monarch butterflies off the national endangered species list.

The 135-page plan issued Monday is aimed at helping farmers, backyard gardeners and others boost monarch butterfly habitat in Iowa, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/2luarvn ) reports. Nearly 40 agriculture, conservation, business, utility and government groups, calling themselves the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, pulled together the strategy.

“It’s a big first step,” said Steve Bradbury, an Iowa State University entomologist and strategy team leader. “Now we have a foundation to build on.”

Since 2014, about $4 million has been invested in adding demonstration habitat plots, building research and other initiatives. The consortium hopes the group’s work will attract more funding, with $1.3 million in grants already being sought.

Bradbury said it’s unclear exactly how many habitat acres Iowa should add to help keep monarch butterflies off the national endangered species list. Experts said former President Barack Obama’s administration estimated that the nation needs about 7 million acres in pollinator habitat, and that number will likely grow.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is putting that data together for states, regions and the nation in the upcoming weeks.

The federal agency is also considering protecting monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act. Supporters of the protection say farming in the Midwest is among the reasons for the 80 percent decline in the number of monarch butterflies over the past two decades.

The petition specifically points to the adoption of glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans for causing a decline in milkweed, the only place monarchs lay their eggs.

Bradbury said the Iowa consortium, with agri-businesses Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont-Pioneer and Syngenta as members, is seeking solutions.

State Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said the group will ask farmers to grow pollinator habitat in areas where fields aren’t productive.

“The best way to avoid monarchs being listed as an endangered species is for everyone to engage.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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