Federal officials want landowners in Indiana and nine other states to grow milkweed to boost the population of monarch butterflies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is due to spend $4 million in 2016 to help farmers and others plant milkweed and other nectar-producing plants. Milkweed is essential for monarchs because it is the only plant on which the butterfly will lay its eggs. The monarch's journey to and from Mexico takes three to four generations.
"We're looking to re-establish habitats for monarchs and pollinators in general," said Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, told The (Bloomington) Herald-Times.
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The butterflies fly south from eastern North America to roosting spots in the mountains of central Mexico, where they spend the winter before heading to lay eggs on milkweed plants. The USDA funds also will be spent in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.
"Pretty much what we are trying to do is fuel that migration," Zezula said.
Populations of monarchs have decreased significantly in the past two decades, from an estimated 1 billion butterflies in 1995 to about 34 million today.
In many areas of the Midwest and southern Great Plains, farmers and landowners have cleaned milkweed and other weeds from along fence rows, pasture land, cropland and buffer areas along waterways and wetlands. Those weeds included many of the flowering plants that provide monarchs and other pollinating insects with shelter and food.
"We're trying to add milkweed back into the landscape, but also other flowering plants," Zezula said.
The USDA funds also will be spent in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.
Zezula said farmers and landowners who own property that was once used for agriculture, such as old pastures, fallow fields and forest woodlands, may be eligible for some of the funding. His advice was to talk to the county Natural Resources Conservation Service officials for more information.