KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A national wildlife group awarded $3.3 million in grants Monday in its initial push to stem the worrisome decline of monarch butterflies, hoping the effort helps restore as much as 33,000 acres of habitat for the black-and-orange insect.
The 22 grants announced by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be matched by more than $6.7 million from the recipients, who are in more than a dozen states and among 115 applicants for funds in the conservation effort launched earlier this year.
Among the recipients is the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition. The group will receive $125,000 from the NFWF. The entire project is slated at around $650,000.
The Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition will work with private landowners and managers to develop conservation plans to benefit monarch butterflies on grazing lands.
The project will result in 12,000 acres of improved or created habitat for the monarch butterfly by restoring and enhancing native mixed-grass and tallgrass ecosystem functions, improved rangeland health on private working lands through invasive species control, proper grazing management, prescribed fire, native grassland and forb planting, and other beneficial rangeland management practices.
"We were delighted to have drawn such a large number of excellent proposals," said Lila Helms, the foundation's executive vice president of external affairs. The grants "will fund on-the-ground projects that will quickly contribute to a healthier, more sustainable monarch population."
Many of Monday's biggest grants — roughly $250,000 apiece — went to efforts to bolster grasslands and other habitat in key monarch butterfly migration corridors. One project looks to restore more than 1,000 acres of monarch habitat in the Dakotas, while another includes the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's quest to create or improve 7,000 habitat acres along two of the butterfly's major north-south migration routes.
Besides Kansas, states with recipients of Monday's grants include Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Washington.
Roughly $1.2 million of the grant money this year comes from St. Louis-based agribusiness Monsanto Co., maker of the Roundup weed killer that critics have partly blamed for knocking out monarch butterflies' habitat. Monsanto said in March it was committing $4 million overall, most of it to the foundation's Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund.
Monarch butterflies are being considered for federal protection because their numbers throughout the continental U.S. have plunged by more than 90 percent in the past two decades, worrying environmentalists and scientists. Much of the drop-off has been blamed on destruction of habitat that includes milkweed, where monarchs lay their eggs and which provides the sole source of food for caterpillars that later develop into the distinctive butterflies.
Some monarch populations migrate thousands of miles from breeding and wintering grounds in California and Mexico. But along the route, there is less of the milkweed — widely attributed to increasing acreage for corn and soybeans, logging, construction and a drought that peaked in 2012.
Environmentalists say the butterfly's decline has coincided with the increased use of Roundup, and more acreage planted with its herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready crops.
Monsanto has said one-third of a $3.6 million contribution matches what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was contributing. The rest was set aside for the coming years. Monsanto also planned to contribute $400,000 to experts and groups working on the butterfly's behalf.
Kansas Agland contributed to this report.