Clark McLeod believes the question at the core of the Monarch Research Project’s effort is simple. “Do you want a better environment for your kids and grandkids, or do you want the trend to continue in the opposite direction?” The group, started by Clark McLeod and Cam Watts, intends to make Linn County’s environment healthier and more vibrant by focusing on efforts aimed at expanding habitat for, raising, and releasing monarch butterflies.
Pollinators (the birds, bats bees, butterflies, and other bugs that help plants reproduce) are essential to the future of humanity and our planet. An estimated 75% to 95% of all flowering plants need help with pollination. Over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops depend on the efforts of pollinators to reproduce. Because we are unable to replicate the process artificially, these critters play an essential role in maintaining vibrant and diverse green spaces and plant life. In total, pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the United States economy by supporting the production of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
But pollinators are increasingly at risk and their dwindling numbers are cause for alarm; both the quantity and health of pollinator populations are declining. Bee populations specifically have dropped by 50 percent since World War II, the monarch butterfly population has decreased 90 percent in 20 years and other butterfly species are finding themselves on the national endangered species list. As a result, we’re seeing the impact on agriculture as production is slowed by the decrease in pollinators in our natural environment.
In response, concerned citizens across the country are establishing pollinator zones. These protected, pesticide-free safe spaces are intended to provide safe habitat for pollinator species. Here in Linn County, the effort is being led by the Monarch Research Project.
The organization works to help pollinators in two ways. The group breeds monarchs in predator-protected spaces and eventually releases them into the wild. In this way, they hope to increase the dwindling population numbers. But Clark and Cam recognize that restoring their diminishing habitat plays a substantial role in maintaining and growing the monarch population .The group is encouraging residents of Linn County to make changes in their landscaping to regenerate habitat for pollinators.
Fortunately, Clark and Cam have not been alone in recognizing the significance of pollinators. The group activates over 160 volunteers; and an effort is underway to dedicate 10,000 acres of public and private property to be used for growing and sustaining pollinator populations in Linn County. The City of Cedar Rapids and others have come together to support the effort with the City committing 1,000 acres of land for pollinator habitat.
Clark is optimistic that the Monarch and Pollinator Zones Fund, held at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, will be able to aid in raising the funds needed to see the dream become a reality. He says, “For us to be successful, we need to engage everyone in Linn County.”
To learn more about the Monarch Research Project visit www.monarchzones.com.