Monarch butterfly population to get boost from seeding project at Beatrice Power Station

December 16, 2015

Beatrice, Neb. – An iconic insect on the decline in Nebraska will be getting an opportunity to grow.

A 50 acre tract of land near Beatrice, owned by Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), will become a new breeding ground for the Monarch butterfly.

NPPD and the Save Our Monarchs Foundation have joined together in an effort to provide a viable location to encourage the growth of the Monarch butterfly and other invertebrates. NPPD has signed an agreement with the Foundation to utilize approximately 50 acres of unused land west of its Beatrice Power Station to seed for milkweeds and other native flowering plants in an effort to help the Monarch butterfly population grow.

NPPD Board member Mary Harding was first approached about the possibility of utilizing any available NPPD land. “This is a worthwhile environmental project that will help the Monarch population in Nebraska into the future,” she explained. “This is a great project for NPPD to be involved with the Save Our Monarch Foundation and is a great opportunity to help replenish a population that has been declining in the state and throughout the country.”

NPPD initially worked with the Foundation to find a location that would be suitable and provide a large enough area to develop a new habitat  “In many of our locations where we have a power plant we also have land that is not being used and acts as a buffer area,” said  Rocky Plettner, environmental specialist for NPPD. The District looked at numerous locations and decided on a former sandpit area along the Big Blue River west of the Beatrice Power Station.

“Nebraska sits in the heart of the Monarch butterfly flyway, and is a significant reproductive and migratory area for these iconic insects. Monarchs and other pollinators play a powerful role in the cycle of life that sustains us, while healthy, balanced ecosystems of native plants provide vital benefits to Nebraskans, from the clean water we drink to the clean air we breathe,” said Program Director for the Save Our Monarchs Foundation, Randall Gilbert. “Finding available land from a public entity where we could plant the necessary seeds for milkweed and other pollinator plants was our program’s goal, and the willingness of NPPD to assist us is invaluable to our organization. Actions like these will help make a significant impact on the recovery of the Monarch butterfly population.”

Monarch butterflies made headline news in 2014 when the numbers of them hibernating in Mexico plunged to the lowest level since record-keeping began, down 90 percent since 1996. One of the primary causes of this decline is the loss of milkweed (the Monarch caterpillar’s only source of sustenance), which is disappearing across the country, with over one million acres of habitat lost since 2008 in Nebraska alone.

After hibernating in Mexico, the Monarchs begin their long journey north in February or March. In the spring, this same generation of Monarchs will settle in the Monarch flyway, which includes Nebraska. These butterflies will reproduce, laying their eggs only on milkweed, and create subsequent generations that will return to Mexico in the fall. There are up to five successive generations of Monarchs born before the migration begins. It is still unknown how the Monarchs find their way back to Mexico each year, and their migration remains one of Earth’s great animal mysteries.

The Save Our Monarchs Foundation assessed different parcels of land owned or controlled by NPPD in several distinct ecosystems throughout the state. The Beatrice location will be the first site of intensive, high-density seeding of native milkweed and pollinator plants under this project created to serve as an example of the habitat restorations that other right-of-way and public landholders in Nebraska could undertake. Initial seeding will begin this Friday and Saturday, weather permitting.

Research findings from the monitoring of this and subsequent NPPD restoration sites will be compiled in order to share the methods, means, economic considerations and environmental benefits of this project with other land owners and state agencies, with the goal of inspiring similar restoration efforts.

(Note to Editors: Representatives from NPPD and the Save Our Monarchs Foundation will be at the seeding site this Friday at 11 a.m. The location  is located off Highway 77 going towards Beatrice, just to the south the of the Homestead Plaza Truck Stop and approximately 3.6 miles west on Hackberry Road. You cannot gain entry to the location from the Beatrice Power Station entrance.)

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