OPPD’s ‘Prairie in Progress’ initiative hopes to bring back Monarch butterflies

Omaha Public Power District is helping create new grassland with what it calls "Prairie in Progress."
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 4:26 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Take a drive on 204th street north toward Elkhorn and you see development everywhere.

Drivers on Q street can see construction equipment, signs about future projects and mounds of dirt on both sides of the street.

But there is also something out of the ordinary. A big parcel of land near Pacific Street with a sign that reads “Prairie in Progress.” It’s a sanctuary for Monarch butterflies.

While it might seem out of place, OPPD has set aside certain plots of land around Omaha and other parts of Nebraska to grow milkweed. That’s where Monarchs lay their eggs. Experts say that’s the only food their caterpillars will eat.

Scientists believe a vast decline in milkweed is leading to a similar drop in the number of Monarch butterflies in the country. So, the power company is now in the midst of a multi-year plan with the foundation Save Our Monarchs to try to bring them back.

“On large tracts of land that we spent a lot of time maintaining and mowing, just this turf grass, we were looking at ways to reduce costs,” said Chris Vrtiska, OPPD’s Wildlife and Resource Specialist. “As we looked into that we realized we could do more planning of larger tracts to naturalized wildflowers, prairies, grasses, those type of things.”

There is also a “Prairie in Progress” site at 142nd and State in Northwest Omaha, as well as plants and pollination gardens at the vast OPPD Arboretum at 108th and Blondo.

“The Monarch butterfly has been in decline for many years and it still is because of reduced habitat around the Midwest and around the country. Anywhere we can enhance that type of habitat and help them out is great and it’s not just Monarch butterflies, it’s pollinators in general, bees and other insects that pollinate are also in decline.”

Other habitat locations include Fort Calhoun and Nebraska City.