Monarch and Pollinator Initiative

Insect pollinators are essential for food production and ecological diversity, but their populations are at risk. Beekeepers are losing large numbers of honey bee colonies. Many species of wild bees are in decline. The rusty-patch bumblebee, a once common and widespread species, has been declared “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, and the iconic monarch butterfly is under consideration for listing. 

Public natural lands and urban green spaces provide valuable opportunities for habitat, but by themselves cannot provide the expanse of habitat needed to recover pollinator populations. Widespread, voluntary conservation action on private, working lands -- especially farmland and rights-of-way -- is crucial to help these species rebound.

Sand County Foundation is helping private landowners to provide needed habitat. We are working with agricultural and energy partners to increase the diversity and expanse of native prairie vegetation throughout the Midwest and southern plains. Resulting pilot projects will encourage individual land managers and private enterprise to incorporate cost-effective restoration strategies into their standards of operation.


Our Recent Progress

Energy Sector

Energy Sector

In partnership with the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA), we are helping Wisconsin’s rural electric cooperatives to establish native prairie habitat on open land surrounding electric infrastructure. Two cooperatives are already taking action. 

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Agricultural Sector

Agricultural Sector

Sand County Foundation has recruited four Wisconsin farms to install "prairie filter strips". This practice achieves pollinator habitat and water quality benefits in one practice, by placing buffer strips of diverse native perennial vegetation within row crop fields to capture sediment and nutrient runoff.

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Resources for High School Teachers

Resources for High School Teachers

We are working with Minnesota and Wisconsin high schools to involve students in hands-on habitat restoration on farms and other rural lands. We offered financial grants for students to raise native prairie plants in greenhouses. Students transplant the plants in rural areas and monitor their progress. 

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Why Focus on Monarchs?

The monarch butterfly is an iconic species, both for its beauty and its impressive annual migration. 

Every year the eastern North American monarch population conducts a fascinating multi-generational journey from wintering grounds in Mexico through the Midwest and back again. But this unique migratory phenomenon is at risk. 

Monarch numbers have declined by 90% over the past 20 years, due in part to loss of habitat in the agricultural heartland of the United States. 

In response, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been petitioned to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The steep decline in monarch numbers is a major conservation concern and regulatory action could disrupt economic activity on a large scale. Unlike many other species, monarch populations can respond quickly to a private sector initiative to improve habitat. This would lower the pressure to list the butterfly as threatened or endangered under the ESA. As an added benefit, improvement of monarch habitat will benefit many other pollinators and wildlife that share these lands.

Sand County Foundation is regarded nationally as a leader in fostering voluntary actions on private working lands to achieve measurable environmental outcomes. We are actively involved in national efforts to advance population science, recovery planning, and regulatory avoidance for the monarch butterfly. These include the Keystone Policy Center’s Monarch Collaborative, the Monarch Joint Venture, Farmers For Monarchs, the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group, and the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.

With the iconic monarch butterfly serving as an ambassador species, we support partners in the agricultural and energy sectors to demonstrate effective habitat restoration that sustains species that are important to agriculture and ecological health.

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Photos by Wendy Caldwell and Candy Sarikonda (Monarch Joint Venture) 

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