Cutline: A monarch butterfly enjoys the wildflowers on the Stickney farm located west of Stapleton. Pollinators and monarchs are in decline due to many factors, including reduced availability of milkweed, insecticide and herbicide use, and loss of habitat.
BY: MARCIA HORA
Most people enjoy seeing monarch butterflies on their migration through the state. Many do not realize that monarchs and other pollinators are at risk of possible extinction due to loss of habitat, insecticide and herbicide use, and reduced availability of milkweed late in summer.
Susan Stickney not only knew that some species, including the monarchs were in danger, she decided to do something about it and took action. Stickney has always been an avid horticulturist and arborist. She owned and operated her own greenhouse business in Ringgold, assisted with tree planting and Arbor Day programs in the area, and has been involved in conservation practices, including the identification and planting of grasses native to the Sandhills region. It was only natural that Stickney would plant wildflowers on two half acre plots on the farm where she resides with her husband, John, west of Stapleton. The goal was to have a variety of species that bloom during summer months and attract pollinators, including monarch butterflies.
With the help of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stickney saw real results this summer. Her farm was alive with monarch butterflies, drawing many visitors, including a group of ladies from Logan County, to experience the beauty of this unique species.
While some other butterflies do migrate, none of them accomplish the astounding feat of flying thousands of miles to a wintering roost where they spend the winter with millions of their own kind. The ability of the fourth generation to fly from as far as Canada to the high mountains of Mexico and then fly north again to lay eggs in the spring is truly remarkable. Their sense of navigation is a phenomenal ability.
Although Stickney is not sure why there has been such an increase in monarch numbers this summer, most agree that it may have to do with the abundance of rainfall in the area in 2018.
Monarchs are attracted to wildflowers and are specialists, according to the NRSCS website. Their populations depend entirely on milkweeds. That is the only plant that caterpillars eat. Butterflies have decreased over the past 20 years, in part because of a decline in milkweed – their sole source of food.
Farmers and ranchers are now working to create monarch habitat across the country and USDA is providing technical and financial assistance.
Producers are encouraged to visit their USDA service center in North Platte to learn more about the Conservation Reserve Programs that helps select the best plants and develop a plan for properties to establish habitat for pollinators.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service also offers plant lists by region to help in choosing the best grasses and wildflowers.
There was a lot of excitement, not only from those who were able to see the hundreds of monarchs west of Stapleton, but for Stickney who has been working diligently to re-establish wildflowers and grasses for pollinators.