NEBRASKAland July 2017

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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52 NEBRASKAland • JULY 2017 M ilkweed plants play a key role in our prairie ecosystem. They support the monarch butterfly and a wide range of other pollinator species including bees, moths, beetles and flies that feed on the pollen, nectar, leaves and stems of milkweeds. As a pollinator forages, it also facilitates the production of other plant seeds and fruits, which ultimately enhance an area's biodiversity. Additionally, pollinators provide an important service to agriculture: Many of Nebraska's specialty crops such as sunflowers, tree fruits, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, berries, pumpkins and eggplants require or benefit from pollinators. Pollinators also indirectly improve dairy products and meats as livestock can feed on the pollinated plants. To imagine a world without pollinators is to imagine a world with fewer species and a lot less food. If native pollinators and honey bees are allowed to decline too dramatically, producers could someday become pressed to pollinate crops by hand – a time consuming and more expensive way to go about business when beneficial insects could be doing the job much more efficiently. If pollinator populations collapse, ecosystems and economies will suffer. The monarch butterfly is only one pollinator species, but its at-risk status indicates that not all is well in our environment. Because of reduced habitat, frequent mowing and pesticide and herbicide applications, monarchs and other pollinators are losing ground. For example, not only have habitat loss and additional stressors taken their toll on butterfly populations, monarch caterpillars also feed exclusively on the disappearing milkweed plant. Therefore, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and other wildlife agencies across the country have made pollinators, monarchs and milkweeds a priority. "Recovery and conservation of the monarch and other pollinators will require a concerted effort by many partners over a wide geographic area," said Commission Director Jim Douglas. "The Commission is pleased to be a part of this noble endeavor to save an iconic species and hopes to enlist your help." Prairie Restoration In 2016, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission responded by launching a statewide conservation strategy for monarchs and at-risk pollinators. Planting milkweeds is the project's highest priority, and the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, which stretches 321 miles across the northern part of the state, holds tremendous potential to increase Milkweeds for Monarchs pollinator habitat project sign on the Cowboy Trail near Neligh. PHOTO BY JENNY NGUYEN Milkweeds for Monarchs By Jenny Nguyen

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