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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JULY 2017 • NEBRASKAland 53 pollinator habitat and conserve biodiversity. The trail's right of way – areas beside the trail – includes 4,000 acres of public conservation lands suitable for native prairie restoration. The goal is to plant 40,000 milkweed seedlings and restore nearly 1,000 acres of native prairie grassland along the Cowboy Trail and in at least 15 of Nebraska's state parks, according to Commission Wildlife Biologist Melissa Panella. The Nebraska Environmental Trust and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are funding these restoration efforts. The project is expected to carry through to 2018. "More than two dozen organizations have made commitments to pollinator conservation in the state," said Panella. Northern Prairies Land Trust, Prairie Plains Resource Institute, and the Commission have plans to restore and enhance monarch habitat in eastern Nebraska. The Nebraska Wildlife Federation and the Commission are partnering to lead workshops and conduct milkweed surveys. In addition to planting milkweeds, current haying, mowing, prescribed burning and spraying practices have also been adjusted to encourage the comeback of native forbs and nectar plants. Grant funding will also allow for invasive tree-clearing projects – mostly eastern red-cedar – along the trail and in state parks. New acres of pollinator habitat are also being established in state parks. In 2016, 15,000 milkweed seedlings were planted on the Cowboy Trail near Bassett and Neligh, 350 at Dead Timber State Recreation Area near Scribner and over 400 at Willow Creek SRA near Pierce. By the end of 2017, native seed mixtures will have been planted on 77 acres of state park lands and 60 acres on the Cowboy Trail. In addition to the 10,000 milkweeds planted on the Cowboy Trail this spring, a team of seven AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) volunteers will plant 5,000 more milkweeds this fall on trail sections in Neligh, Oakdale and Long Pine, as well as at Niobrara and Ponca state parks. In 2018, the Commission plans to seed 95 more acres on state park and recreation areas plus 60 acres on the Cowboy Trail. Partnerships and Education Since the project's launch, local agencies such as the Nebraska Department of Roads have jumped in to help. NDOR has committed 100 person hours per year for three years toward native prairie restoration along rights of way for state highways 275 and 20, which run adjacent to the Cowboy Trail. In 2016, the AmeriCorps from Vinton, Iowa, stayed two weeks to assist Commission staff with milkweed planting. They will return this year to donate their services from Sept. 13 to Nov. 2. Local support is paramount to creating long-term conservation awareness of the plight of monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Public education workshops through the Monarchs on a Mission program and citizen scientists are designed to inform teachers, students, families and landowners on the importance of pollinators and how they can help monarchs in their own communities. Previous milkweed planting efforts on the Cowboy Trail included the assistance of students from O'Neill Elementary School, Elkhorn Valley Schools in Tilden, Pierce High School and Battle Creek High School. How You Can Help To reverse the dramatic decline of monarchs, current models call for the planting of more than 1 billion milkweed stems and restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of land with diverse pollinator-friendly plants across the Midwest from Pennsylvania to Nebraska. This translates to approximately 125 million new stems in Nebraska. Citizens in towns and villages along the Cowboy Trail right of way are invited to assist the Commission with the planting of 10,000 milkweed seedlings this September and October; milkweeds will be donated by the Monarch Watch program at the University of Kansas. Park staff from Willow Creek State Recreation Area, the Bassett Service Center, and an AmeriCorps team will be leading the effort. For dates and locations, visit volunteerschedule. If you are unable to volunteer, you can still help monarchs at home. "Milkweeds are a vital component of healthy, native grasslands, and they can be a suitable choice for growth in yards, gardens, rights of way, and land that has been marginal for crop production," said Panella. To keep track of the efforts in Nebraska, the Commission has created the Milkweed Tracker at for landowners, students, and conservationists to register their milkweed planting efforts. If you are managing a site for pollinators, have recently restored a grassland, or added milkweeds to your garden, register that information so your milkweeds can be counted in the statewide restoration effort. For upcoming monarch-related workshops, visit the Nebraska Project WILD Facebook events page. ■ Fourth- through sixth-grade students from O'Neill Elementary School plant milkweed seedlings on the Cowboy Trail right of way in O'Neill. PHOTO BY JENNY NGUYEN

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