In the United States, one-third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Unfortunately, the populations of native and managed pollinators such as honeybees and monarch butterflies have experienced significant declines over the past decade. The loss of proper habitat that provides pollen and nectar along with changes in agriculture production practices, the use of broad-spectrum pesticides, and urbanization are among the main culprits for these declining trends. In response, many governmental and non-profit efforts have been devoted to enhance pollinator habitats. In particular, the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Pollinator Habitat Initiative provides farmers and landowners with monetary incentives to plant legume-rich forage or diverse wildflower plantings. In 2015, Iowa launched the “Monarch Highway” (I-35) to create a multi-state partnership to help promote monarch habitats, such as milkweed plants.Increasing pollinator habitats in agricultural areas is particularly relevant for the IWC because native plants that make up monarch and pollinator habitat like milkweed plants, wildflowers, and bunch grasses, have deep root systems that can reach several feet into the ground. These plants provide food and shelter for many wildlife species, including monarchs, while also helping to slow the flow of runoff and prevent contaminants from reaching our waterways. Despite these connections, few studies examine the potential co-benefits that stem from efforts to enhance pollinator habitat, which may produce water quality benefits in addition to wildlife/pollinator benefits. We propose building on the IWC-funded year 1 survey on the economic value of harmful algal bloom reduction to conduct a general public survey on the willingness to pay (WTP) for pollinator conservation and the tradeoff between water quality benefits and pollinator benefits through conservation efforts to protect and enhance habitats for monarch butterflies. In particular, we propose conducting a mixed-mode survey of 3,000 households in Iowa and neighboring states along the monarch butterfly migration path in spring/summer 2020. A key component of the survey is a set of choice experiments that mimic possible policy scenarios that vary in the acres of conservation practices, possible improvements in surface and drinking water quality, and the population and health of key pollinators like monarch butterflies. In particular, we explore how Midwest residents’ valuation varies when their hypothetical monetary contribution helps with the upstream restoration of milkweed habitat, or donation to a general pollinator protection NGO. We will also gather valuable information about residents’ knowledge of various pollinators such as butterflies, habitat species such as milkweed, and their understanding of the connections between water quality and pollinator benefits. Understanding how Midwest especially Iowa residents value pollinator conservation is an important step towards a better understanding of the co-benefits associated with conservation practices that enhance water quality, benefits that can be missed when valuation studies focus on water quality benefits alone. The survey can also examine how the exposure to monarch butterflies would affect the valuations of pollinator conservation among residents along the migration path, and how Iowa residents’ views and valuations differ from neighboring states.
Review the 2021 policy brief based on these projects here.