Environmental stressors and habitat loss have caused declines in monarch butterfly numbers and other pollinators since the 1990s. The loss of milkweed and nectar plants reduces the resilience of the monarch population to predators, parasites, pathogens and weather.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to place the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. Pollinators are vital to agriculture because 35% of the world’s food crop depends to some degree on pollinators.
The week of June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week, a week fully dedicated to celebrating pollinators and educating how to protect them.
On June 5, agriculture classes and the FFA chapter in Beaver Dam, Wis., helped with pollinator plantings at a local 1,800-acre crop farm owned by Nancy Kavazanjian and her husband, Charlie Hammer. Beaver Dam High School is one of 12 schools in Wisconsin and 10 schools in Minnesota selected this year to receive a grant from Sand County Foundation.
“We had 14 grants last year,” says Craig Ficenec, program director at Sand County Foundation. “This year we had 40 applicants just for the 12 Wisconsin grants.”
The Sand County Foundation is working with Wisconsin and Minnesota high schools to involve students in hands-on habitat restoration on farms and other rural lands. The group offers financial grants for students to raise native prairie plants in greenhouses. Students then transplant the plants in rural areas and monitor their progress. Wisconsin co-sponsors include We Energies Foundation, Syngenta, Bayer Crop Science and Dairyland Power Cooperative.
Jonathan Ganske, Beaver Dam High School ag instructor, says 50 students in three ag classes, plus FFA officers, helped with the pollinator plantings at the Kavazanjian and Hammer farm. In March, the students received 600 plugs, or plants, which they planted in the school greenhouse.
“Our greenhouse class grew the plants,” Ganske says. “I believe the best way to learn is by doing. When this opportunity came along to apply for a grant, I thought it was a no-brainer.”
Kavazanjian says the pollinator plants were then planted on about 1 acre of land in front of a solar panel array on their farm.
“We’re planting coreopsis, blue aster, blazing star and bluestem from the Sand County Foundation, and milkweed from the BASF Monarch Challenge,” she says. “I also plan to plant some coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and sunflowers. They all attract pollinators.”
Kavazanjian also plans to seed the site with grasses. “A couple years from now, it will look amazing,” she says.