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The past year was difficult for monarch butterflies. Adult monarch butterflies covered approximately 2.2 acres of forest canopy in Mexico, about 3 acres smaller than last year, according to the 2023-2024 overwintering monarch population report released by the World Wildlife Fund-Telcel Foundation Alliance.

Scientists estimate that a long-term average of 15 acres of occupied forest canopy is needed to sustain the eastern North American monarch population. Many factors contribute to the decline of monarch butterflies. The loss of breeding habitat in the U.S. and Canada, forest degradation in Mexico, and extreme weather events have contributed to population declines over the last 25 years. A drought in the southern U.S. during the 2023 fall migration may have been tough on monarchs this year.

In addition to habitat loss in their wintering grounds, the availability of breeding habitat with milkweed plants in the Midwest is also critical to the species’ long-term survival. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, and it is also the primary food source for monarch caterpillars.

Iowa efforts are essential

The goal to maintain a long-term average of 15 acres of occupied forest canopy during the winter shapes objectives for establishing breeding habitat in the Midwestern states, including Iowa, through the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy – developed by the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium – guides the implementation and documentation of voluntary, statewide conservation efforts. This approach fosters habitat improvements in rural landscapes that do not conflict with agricultural production, are sufficient in scale to support improved monarch breeding success and strives to complement other conservation programs. The consortium comprises 50 organizations, including agricultural and conservation associations, agribusiness and utility companies (including the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives), universities and federal agencies.

“Iowans working together on public and private land are instrumental to improving monarch populations in North America,” says Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon.

Ways to support monarch butterflies

All Iowans can help support the monarch butterfly by planting milkweed and other flowering plants in their gardens, yards and even road ditches. To encourage habitat establishment, consortium members have collaborated with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to develop a Habitat How-To webpage that provides practical steps and additional resources to guide planning and planting efforts. Scan the QR code below to access resources.

“As we accelerate the pace of conservation and water quality practice adoption in Iowa, we are also looking for more ways to layer in habitat for wildlife, including monarchs and other vitally important pollinators,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We are collaborating with public and private partners, including the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, to expand pollinator habitat statewide while also improving soil health and water quality within our communities.”

To learn more about the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium and the resources it provides, visit and follow @IowaMonarchs on Facebook, X and YouTube.

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