OPPD biodiversity program aims to help Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies, under pressure worldwide because of pollution, habitat loss and other challenges, are getting a boost from Omaha Public Power District’s biodiversity program that includes enhancing natural habitat that could help them recover and thrive.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide by June whether to list the Monarch as an endangered or threatened species. Such a designation could focus on restoring the depleted milkweed plant, where the butterflies lays their eggs and provides food for caterpillars to eat.

The federal agency estimates 970 million Monarchs have vanished since 1990.

Last year, OPPD started converting 325 acres of property into natural habitat. More acreage will be added this year.

Jim Fitzsimmons, OPPD supervisor of building services and operations, said the program originally started to reduce ground maintenance costs as well as for erosion control. It soon morphed into prairie restoration and helping to save the Monarch.

“Our goal is to establish prairie throughout the District facilities that make sense and have no plans for disturbance in the near future to continue to reduce costs within our ground maintenance,” he said.

Goals of the program include “Helping with saving the Monarch butterfly from extinction, establish prairie that our customers will not only enjoy but understand the grounds expectations of our sites District-wide.”

Emily Muth, OPPD environmental affairs administrator, added that the tremendous amount of support from OPPD’s partners and customer-owners “has been more than I would have ever dreamed. It is incredibly humbling and rewarding to build sustainable habitats that promote biodiversity with the use of native prairie plant species while reducing maintenance costs.”

OPPD’s partners in the program include Save Our Monarch Foundation, Conservation Blueprint and Weedcope.

According to Fitzsimmons, OPPD is in the early stages of establishing prairies District-wide.

“Last fall, we have seen some pollinators as well as signs of the Monarch butterfly at our Nebraska City station site, which we planted in late 2017,” he said. Other locations are still being observed “and we continue with the needed maintenance to get them to the prairie stage.”

The Nebraska City power plant is a 1,212-MW coal-fired generating station located near Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Parts of Nebraska have been hit by spring floods, and the most recent observations took place last week to determine what impact the high water has had on the areas already planted. “We found that we will need to do some maintenance in these areas once the grounds dry up some,” Fitzsimmons said. “We will perform another observation toward the end of April to see how things look.”

SMPPA moves to establish monarch habitat

In a 2016 blog, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s Chris Schoenherr detailed how SMPPA organized a two-pronged effort to establish monarch habitat and raise awareness in member communities. He is SMPPA’s Director Agency & Government Relations and Chief External Affairs Officer.