WASHINGTON, IA - Iowa farmers are joining an effort to create a habitat statewide to save monarch butterflies from extinction.

Iowa's two-decade-long effort is part of a 16-state regional plan to develop up to 7 million acres (2.8 million hectares) of habitat for the monarch's migration east of the Rockies, The Des Moines Register reported.

Roughly 40 percent of all monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico come from Iowa and other Midwestern states. About 93 million monarchs were in Mexico this year.

"Iowa is crucial to the monarchs," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's in the heart of the summer habitat of the eastern migratory population."

The state plans to create up to 830,000 acres (335,900 hectares) of habitat and plant nearly 190 million new stems of milkweed, where monarchs lay their eggs. Loss of milkweed in the state and other Midwest farm states has had a big impact on the butterfly population, Curry said. About 1.6 billion stems are needed in the Midwest.

The center is among the environmental groups that petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the monarch butterfly in 2014, saying the pollinators' North American population declined 80 percent over the past two decades. The federal agency will need to decide within a year whether the monarch should receive protections.

Dozens of conservation, government, utility and agriculture groups support Iowa's plan, including the Farm Bureau, Monsanto and Syngenta.

"It's the largest conservation effort of our lifetime," said Kraig McPeek, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor for Illinois and Iowa.

About $5.3 million in public and private funding is dedicated to the effort so far.

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