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Farmers, Ranchers Critical to Saving Monarchs, Pollinators

MADISON -- Farmers and ranchers are critical to a national effort to provide habitat for monarch butterflies and insect pollinators.  

“There is room on every farm and ranch to encourage habitat for monarchs and pollinators,” said Craig Ficenec, a program director for Sand County Foundation. 

Essential for crop pollination and ecological diversity, pollinators and monarchs are at risk partly due to loss of farmland habitat. Monarch butterfly numbers have dropped by 80 percent over the past 20 years. Monarch caterpillars face a shortage of their sole food source: native milkweed. 

More than 1 billion milkweed plants need to be established to support a sustainable monarch breeding range and migration, particularly across the Midwest. 

There are efforts to plant milkweed on public lands and urban gardens, but there’s huge potential for agriculture to expand acres of habitat on larger parcels next to farm fields and on rangeland. 

“Sand County Foundation supports projects with rural landowners to plant prairie filter strips within farm fields, which serve double-duty in protecting water quality,” Ficenec said. 

“When you consider that three-fourths of the land in the continental U.S. is privately owned, and 85 percent of that is farm, ranch and forest lands, the one percent of Americans who manage all of that land have an incredible role to play for pollinators,” Ficenec added. 

Most agricultural crops rely on pollinators, so their presence can provide economic gain and ecological benefits, he noted. 

The need for a national Pollinator Week (June 18-24) is highlighted by the rusty-patch bumblebee being declared ‘endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act. Monarch butterflies are under consideration for listing. 

In partnership with the Monarch Joint Venture, Sand County Foundation established a pollinator habitat grant program for Minnesota and Wisconsin high schools. Agricultural and science students propagated native wildflowers from seed in school greenhouses before transplanting them in rural areas. The pilot program was also sponsored by Enel Green Power North America Inc. in Minnesota, and We Energies Foundation in Wisconsin. 

Marlina Jackson, an agricultural instructor at Clinton High School in southern Wisconsin called the hands-on project an “awesome experience” for her students. 

With the University of Wisconsin’s Earth Partnership, Sand County Foundation developed a Pollinator Habitat Curriculum Guide for Midwestern high school educators. Aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science standards, the guide contains a set of activities appropriate for establishing, managing and monitoring habitat for monarchs, insect pollinators and grassland birds.  

Sand County Foundation also worked with the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association to establish native prairie habitat on open land surrounding equipment and substations owned by rural electric cooperatives. These projects have spurred interest in creating more pollinator habitat across the Midwest’s energy sector. 

For more on Sand County Foundation’s pollinator efforts, visit

Sand County Foundation is a member of the Monarch Joint Venture. Farmers and ranchers can find information on how to establish monarch and pollinator habitat at the Monarch Joint Venture website

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Sand County Foundation is the nation’s leading voice for private conservation. Based in Madison, the non-profit organization is dedicated to working with private landowners to advance the use of ethical and scientifically sound land management practices that benefit the environment.


Prairie 1

Photo courtesy of Chilton FFA