Monarch Conservation Efforts Continue in Iowa

The latest overwintering monarch population report shows a decline in the species, evidence of the need to restore and reconstruct monarch habitats. Photo by Jacqueline Pohl.

AMES, Iowa — Today the World Wildlife Fund and the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) released its 2019-2020 overwintering monarch population report. Adult monarch butterflies covered approximately seven acres of forest canopy in Mexico, less than half the area of last year’s population. Scientists estimate a long-term average of 15 acres of occupied forest canopy is needed to sustain the eastern North America monarch population.

The news brings attention to ongoing efforts, say leaders of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.

"The monarch butterfly population report is a timely reminder to continue implementing conservation efforts statewide,” said Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. “Enhancing Iowa’s water quality, soil health and native habitat through conservation practices is an investment in our future.”

The monarch butterfly faces many challenges including the loss of milkweed and nectar plant habitat in its spring and summer breeding ranges. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively on milkweed plants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until December 2020 to determine if the monarch should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“Iowa is in the heart of the monarch’s summer breeding range, and our state has a valuable role to play in providing diverse habitat for wildlife,” said Kayla Lyon, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "We have many dedicated partners with broad expertise working across Iowa to support habitat conservation for butterflies, birds, bees and much more."

Habitat restorations and reconstructions should include a diverse array of blooming species to provide nectar for adult monarchs throughout their full life cycle and their spring and fall migrations. The current Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy seeks to establish approximately 480,000 to 830,000 acres of monarch habitat by 2038.

The strategy — developed by consortium members — guides the implementation and documentation of voluntary, statewide conservation efforts based on the best available science. Their 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 strive to complement other conservation programs.

“Iowa State researchers continue to work in the field and lab to improve our understanding of what it takes to enhance monarch habitat,” said Daniel J. Robison, holder of the Endowed Dean’s Chair in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State. “Ongoing research and extension efforts, in coordination with state, national and international partners and collaborators, are providing science-based information to help the monarch survive and thrive in Iowa and the greater Midwest. This is just the right thing to do, and aligned with many other conservation values and goals.”

The Iowa consortium is a group of 50 organizations, including agricultural and conservation associations, agribusiness and utility companies, universities and county, state and federal agencies. Roughly 40% of all monarch butterflies that overwinter in Mexico are estimated to come from Iowa and neighboring Midwestern states.

Consortium members collaborated with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to develop the free publication, “5 Ways to Help the Monarchs.” The recommendations include:

  • Take advantage of farm bill programs, such as the USDA Conservation Reserve Program, to establish monarch breeding habitat.
  • Establish monarch habitat on your land as part of a demonstration project.
  • Follow federal pesticide labels and state regulations when applying pesticides.
  • Consider monarch-friendly weed management for roadsides and other rights-of-way.
  • Establish a Monarch Waystation – a garden with both nectar plants and native milkweed species.

To learn more about the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, visit and follow @IowaMonarchs on social media.