The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will restore or enhance more than 700 acres of goat prairie and oak savannas along the Mississippi River in an effort to improve habitat for the monarch butterfly.

A $69,800 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, combined with nearly $107,000 in state, county and private sector donations, will fund the restorations on public lands between Trempealeau and Crawford counties.

Over the next two years, the DNR and its partners will use prescribed burns and other invasive-species control to restore the native prairie plants on steep slopes along the river. According to the DNR, the work will also benefit other pollinators, rare plants, reptiles and birds.

The DNR plans to target remnant prairies in state natural areas, including Perrot State Park, the Coulee Experimental Forest and Hogback Prairie State Natural Area.

“Dry remnant prairies are some of the rarest habitat we have,” said Pete Duerkop, conservation biologist with the Wisconsin DNR. “Extremely rare and extremely diverse.”

East of the Rocky Mountains, the colorful butterflies journey up to 3,000 miles each fall to one of about a dozen mountain areas in Mexico. In the spring, they begin the return trip, laying eggs in southern states. Their offspring continue moving north into breeding grounds. The butterflies that make the southern migration are typically the third or fourth generation and have never been to the wintering grounds.

Duerkop said the Mississippi River is a major migratory corridor as well as a breeding ground for monarchs.

It’s estimated that the population of eastern monarchs is just a tenth of what it was in the mid-1990s, according to a recent study that found it could be at risk of extinction. One of the biggest threats is loss of breeding habitat across the Midwest, where urban development and herbicide-tolerant row crops have displaced the milkweed monarchs rely on, according to the Monarch Joint Venture, a public-private partnership based at the University of Minnesota.

Monsanto, the maker of the weed killer Roundup, helps fund the NFWF.

The money is part of $3.8 million in monarch habitat grants from the nonprofit NFWF, which combines federal and private funding sources.

This year’s grants include $222,000 for the University of Minnesota to help set up a national monitoring strategy and $165,000 to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation for restoration projects in central Iowa. Pheasants Forever was awarded $80,000 to assist landowners in eight states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with enrolling land in conservation programs.

Established in 2015 to reverse population declines, the NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund has provided $9.6 million in public and private funding to protect and improve butterfly habitat.

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