- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - Volunteers hope that by spreading seeds, they can help monarch butterflies thrive in the future.

Earlier this month, volunteers spent two days spreading milkweed seeds over 50 acres of brown grass dotted with a few bare trees, according to the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1Om1OZV ). They hope that by growing milkweed at the spot owned by the Nebraska Public Power District near Beatrice, they can help reverse an estimated 90 percent decline in monarchs.

Much of the drop is blamed on a lack of habitat.

The planting near Beatrice was a joint project by the Save Our Monarchs Foundation and the power district.

“In Nebraska alone we’ve lost about a million acres of pollinator habitat since 2007. It’s hard to get that back, and we need a concerted effort by all different kinds of stakeholders whether they’re private landowners or folks like NPPD,” said Randall Gilbert, the foundation’s program director.

Tom Weissling, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln associate professor of entomology, notes that Nebraska sits in the monarch flyway for the annual 3,000 mile treks between Canada and Mexico. That makes additional habitat especially important in Nebraska, he said.

In the 1990s, researchers estimate there were more than a billion monarchs, but their numbers fell to about 33.5 million by 2013. The World Wildlife Foundation-Mexico says the numbers appear to be rising a bit, with between 110 million and 145 million monarchs overwintering in the county this year.

Iowa State University researchers estimate milkweed in the Midwest dropped 58 percent from 1999 to 2010.

Weissling said last summer he drove 2,600 miles over more than two weeks and found only 14 caterpillars on milkweed plants.

“From what I remember growing up, every time you saw a milkweed plant there was a monarch caterpillar on it,” Weissling said.

The milkweed seeding cost about $30,000, with the cost being covered through in-kind donations from NPPD and a $25,000 donations from TransCanada, which wants to build an oil pipeline through the state. Save Our Monarchs worked with Nebraska Pheasants Forever to create two seed mixes for different types of soil.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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