[Submitted to the Des Moines Register on August 6, 2017.]

I am the Director of Milkweed Matters, an organization which works to increase pollinator habitat in the roadsides of Iowa and the subject of Bette VenHorst-Lombardi’s recent Letter to the Editor. In our 2017 season, almost 4,000 Iowans attended more than 80 educational seedball-rolling events across the state, producing over 60,000 common milkweed seedballs. During RAGBRAI, over 7,000 riders, many from out of state, stopped by the educational booths to learn about our efforts and participate in our “crowd-planting” project.

To fully restore the Monarch Butterfly population to a sustainable size, recent studies have reported the need to plant 1.8 billion milkweed stems. This will only be accomplished if large-scale prairie and wetland reconstructions are developed on former farmland. However, the 114,486 miles of roadside ditches in the state are ideal sites for native plantings that support pollinators. The objective of Iowa’s Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management program is to establish diverse stands of native plants in roadsides. The 2017 Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy lists restoring habitat in rights-of-way as one of five best management practices for helping the species. After a successful week on RAGBRAI, almost a quarter of a million seeds now lay inside of a seedball in the right-of-way along the route, awaiting stratification and a hospitable spring. We must restore habitat where we can, while simultaneously fighting that which destroys it.

It would be foolish to think seedballs in the roadsides hold the solution to very complex issues of glyphosate use, habitat loss, or pollinator decline. Instead, we are one of hundreds of grassroots organizations in Iowa attempting to impact a piece of the puzzle.

With-all-hands-on-deck, Kelly Guilbeau, Milkweed Matters