Utilities providing habitat for monarchs

Published 9:17 am Thursday, September 1, 2016

By Tom Tylutki

Electric Distribution Director, Austin Utilities

For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of coordinating efforts to plant monarch waystations in the community of Austin. I, and others at Austin Utilities, were surprised when we learned of the plight of the Monarch and wanted to find a way to be involved.

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If you are not familiar with what a monarch waystation is, it is an area planted with resources (like milkweed and wild flowers) necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. In fact, loss of habitat has resulted in an estimated 90 percent reduction in the eastern population of the monarch butterfly.

Our wholesale electric provider, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA,) was instrumental in making this project happen. Through their coordinated efforts, 14 different member communities planted 29 habitat sites. The sites are generally in the 200-400 square foot range and consist of milkweed plants, a variety of flowering nectar plants and educational signage. Milkweed is the main food source for monarch caterpillars, and nectar plants such as flowers provide nourishment for the adult butterflies.

The response from our outreach in the Austin community was overwhelming. In fact, five of the 29 mentioned sites are in Austin, including one at the site of our new service and operation center that opened July 2016. Austin Park and Rec, Mower County Humane Society, I.J. Holton students, and the local Audubon Society all contributed by planting other sites in Mower County. In total, the Austin projects added over 2,500 square feet of monarch habitat using native Minnesota plant species.

You might wonder why a utility would be so interested in promoting monarch waystations plantings. Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are a critical component of 30-40 percent of the food supply. Loss of habitat is the major factor in the decline of pollinator populations. The dramatic decrease in population could result in placing the monarch on the endangered species list. Much of our infrastructure is accessed through right-of-way’s. Having the monarch on the endangered species list could make acquiring and maintaining that right-of-way much more expensive and complicated.

We registered the site at Austin Utilities on the Monarch Waystation Registry at MonarchWatch.org. It is a great website to check out if you want more information. To get involved and plant your own monarch friendly habitat in our community, stop down to our office and pick up a free seed packet containing a mix of plants that are butterfly friendly. The packet will include additional information about the concern for more habitat. It’s just another way we are making connections for better living.

Austin Utilities is a municipal utility serving approximately 12,300 electric customers, 10,300 natural gas customers, and 9,000 water customers. Their mission is to offer utility products and services in a safe, reliable and responsible manner in order to enhance the quality of life in our community. For more information on Austin Utilities visit their website at www.austinutilities.com.