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Kandiyohi County to offer the monarch butterfly a safe haven

Kandiyohi County will be applying to join the Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterfly on Energy and Transportation Lang conservation program. The program requires the county to set aside 5 percent of its road right-of-ways for Monarch Butterfly habitat preservation. Doing so will allow the county the ability to continue maintaining and improving the remaining 95 percent of road ways without having to worry about additional conservation requirements.

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A migrating monarch basks and feeds on a goldenrod plant in September in a Minnesota ditch. Kandiyohi County is considering adopting a percentage of road right of way acres as protected monarch habitat. Photo courtesy of Larry Weber
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WILLMAR — Whether the monarch butterfly ends up listed as an endangered or threatened species under the National Endangered Species Act is still an open question. However, Kandiyohi County isn't waiting for the official word.

"Our recommendation is to take a proactive approach," said Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Mel Odens at Tuesday's County Board meeting.

That approach means applying to join the Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterfly on Energy and Transportation Lands program, headed by United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Illinois Chicago. The county commissioners gave Public Works their approval to apply for the program along with sending out letters explaining the program to landowners who might be impacted.

"I see this as a real win-win situation," said Commissioner Corky Berg. "We can save some money, we can get our roads done and yet we can protect the monarch butterfly as well. I really support this."

The CCAA requires Kandiyohi County to enroll all of its right-of-way acres into the program and adopt 5 percent of that as protected monarch habitat, meaning the county can't do anything in those adopted acres that would disturb the butterfly's main source of food and habitat — milkweed.

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"It drives us to get better, it makes us think before spraying every milkweed out there," Odens said.

See related:

Monarch Butterfly

Kandiyohi Board of Commissioners

As a participant in the CCAA program, if accepted, Kandiyohi County will be able to continue maintaining and improving the remaining 95 percent of right of ways and roads without facing additional restrictions if the monarch is nationally listed.

With approximately 652 miles of county roads, the county needs to adopt a little over 200 acres of right-of-ways to meet the program requirement. Odens presented a map that included 335 acres , spread out across the county. Most of the land on the list isn't normally hayed but having more acres to choose from than needed allows the county to work with landowners who might not want to be part of the program.

The land adopted will have to follow a list of restrictions, including no cutting or mowing in the right-of-way between May 15 and September 20, no broadcast herbicide and insecticide treatment and restricted use of ATV/UTV within in the vegetated areas of the right-of-ways. The county will also have to make sure there is milkweed growing in those adopted acres and report back to the University of Illinois on how everything is going.

"We have five years to become compliant in this program. We would have to come up with a protocol as far as maintenance and (milkweed) stem counts," said Angelica Hopp, county buffer compliance technician. "We can do some intermediate spraying, hand spraying."

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Joining the CCAA will cost the county approximately $9,300 in the first year. While that might seem like a lot of money, Odens said the county already spends that and more on conservation and cultural preservation. The CCAA program will probably end up saving the county money and time, because the county won't have to complete additional butterfly conservation mitigation on the 95 percent of the roadways not adopted. If the monarch is listed and the county isn't part of the CCAA, it could mean even more delays of projects, extra work and increased costs.

"We want to do this to avoid delay, drive us to get better and support some critical things in nature," Odens said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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