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Effort to aid honey bees, Monarch butterflies gets boost with public-private partnership plan

Bees buzz around a stack of honey supers for use in beekeeping in Grand Forks, ND. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

HURON, S.D. --  A three-year project to help improve habitat for the endangered honey bee and monarch butterfly in a six-state area, including South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota, has received funding through a public-private partnership program announced Friday.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his department and private partners across the nation will invest in 84 conservation projects that will help communities improve wildlife habitat, water quality, soil health, agricultural viability and combat drought.

In this round of awards, USDA is splitting up $720 million in federal funds with private partners providing at least $500 million.

The honey bee and monarch butterfly project will receive $8.3 million, while officials were unsure of the total funding by private partners in the project. However, the partners joining in the effort are Syngenta, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Browning Honey Co., Pheasants Forever Inc. and the Monarch Conservation Fund.

South Dakota State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich said this region is a key to both species. About 60 percent of honey bees summer in the upper Midwest. The monarch migration route also cuts right through the region.

Zimprich said a Pheasants Forever pilot project already under way in South Dakota on private land provides seed, technical assistance and pays a five-year rental fee for plots that are focused on honey bees for about 50 percent of the land and the other half for monarch butterflies.

Most of those plots have been planted into natural wildflowers, he said.

What Zimprich also likes about the planned projects are that farmers and other landowners are giving an overwhelming positive response to efforts so far.

“The response from the countryside has been very positive,” he said.

He thinks part of that reason is that producers know the benefits that honey bees provide in pollination of crops and also how plots taken out of production for a time can really benefit soil health -- one of the main emphasis of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the region in recent years.

The projects can really be a “sweet spot” for landowners, he said.

Yet another benefit of the plots, Zimprich said, is they can also be a big boost for upland game birds and other wildlife.

Other states in the bee and butterfly effort are Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. The project goal is to provide habitat on about 14,500 acres over the three years in the six states.

Zimprich said Nebraska’s NRCS is the lead agency on the project and he expects the acreage to be divided between the states with selections of individual projects by competitive proposals.

North Dakota is almost always the No. 1 honey producing state in the nation, with South Dakota usually in the top three, also.