Project Wingspan: Landscape Enhancement for Imperiled Pollinators of the Midwest

Project Wingspan (PW) is a three-year landscape-scale project supported by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to the non-profit the Pollinator Partnership. Pollinator Partnership is working with a coalition of partners and dedicated volunteers to increase the quality, quantity, and connectivity of pollinator habitat across the Midwest and Great Lakes Region to support imperiled native pollinators and the vital habitat they depend on.

Project Wingspan seeks to increase monarch and rusty patched bumble bee (RPBB) habitat by building off the success of our last NFWF grant funded project (Monarch Wings Across the Eastern Broadleaf Forest – MWAEBF) and by engaging public land managers and private land stewards throughout the 9-state target region of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin through a series of monarch habitat enhancement activities with the goal of enhancing and securing over 15,000 acres of high-quality monarch and RPBB habitat.

As you may know, the iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and its spectacular migration are in jeopardy. Their North American numbers have suffered a steep decline of approximately 90% over the past two decades, and in 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (with a listing decision expected for December 15, 2020). Like the monarch, the rusty patched bumble bee (RPBB) was a common species 20 years ago, with a range across 28 states and two Canadian provinces. RPBB (Bombus affinis) populations have also seen a swift decline since the 1990s, which earned it placement on the endangered species list in 2017 – with a distinction of becoming the first bee in the contiguous 48 states to be declared endangered. The species has now only been observed as a few small patches of populations across what is estimated to be only 0.1% of its historical range.

Project Wingspan is being conducted in two phases. From 2019-2021, we’re building a volunteer network to collect and distribute regionally appropriate native wildflower seed in IL, IN, MI, OH, PA, and WI. Through an expansion of Project Wingspan from 2020-2022, we’re continuing to engage with volunteers and build up a network for collecting/distributing regionally appropriate native wildflower seed in IL, MI, and WI, while also expanding the project into AR and MN.

Throughout the scope of the program, Project Wingspan will engage a network of volunteers by providing educational training on plant identification and seed collection protocols to ensure volunteers are competent in their abilities to collect seed according to best management standards. Trained volunteers in collaboration with program partners will make targeted collections of local genotype native wildflower seed within designated collection zones. All seed collections will be geospatially tagged, cleaned and inspected, and then be awarded (as seed and grown plug plants) to habitat creation and enhancement projects within their state and zone of origin. Long-term habitat will be secured through obtaining written agreements from program participants to manage native habitat areas utilizing BMPs (Best Management Practices) for a minimum of 5 years or more.

Project Wingspan will also provide technical guidance and educational support to land managers and landowners through a series of in-person habitat management workshops, online webinars, and other resources to disseminate information on current BMPs including developing native seed mixes, site preparation, implementation, invasive species control, prescribed fire, and long-term management. Information on other programs, projects, and organizations/agencies that may be able to help land stewards meet their long-term habitat goals will also be provided to participants.

Special Thanks

Core Partners: Arkansas Native Seed Program, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Audubon Arkansas,Holden Forests & Gardens, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – Mason State Nursery, Indiana DNR, Kettle Moraine Land Trust, Michigan DNR, Michigan State University, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, Pheasants Forever, Pennsylvania DOT, Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, Pollinator Partnership, University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and U.S. Forest Service.

Satellite Partners: Applied Ecological Services, Arkansas Forestry Commission, Arkansas State Parks, Big Oaks Muscatatuck NWR Complex, Brown County Parks, Camp Friedenswald, Nicolet National Forest – USFS, Charter Bird Sanctuary, City of Bryant, City of Fayetteville, Clay Parks & Recreation, Clinton County Parks, Chicago Botanic Garden, Dane County Parks, Edward Lowe Foundation, Energy Resources Center of University of Illinois at Chicago, Ernst Conservation Seeds, Foothills Chapter of AR Master Naturalists, Gabis Arboretum at Purdue Northwest, Greater Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Haehnle Bird Sanctuary, Hobbs SP, Indianapolis Public Works, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Land Conservancy of West MI, MDNR Wildlife Division, Milwaukee County Parks, NICHES Land Trust, Nicolet National Forest – USFS, North Central AR Master Naturalists, NWA Land Trust, Ohio Prairie Nursery, Ohio State University, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, PA Master Naturalist program, Patoka River NWR, Pleasant Hill Acres, River Revitalization Foundation, Riveredge Nature Center, Sand Valley Restoration Fund LLC, Southeast MI Land Conservancy, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, The University of Illinois, The Wetlands Initiative, Tyson Foods, US COE Little Rock District, University of MI Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nicoles Arboretum, Walworth County Parks, Washington County Parks, Waukesha County Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative.

Support for Project Wingspan has been provided in part by Commonwealth Edison as part of their commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation.

Monarch Resources

Monarch Conservation Webinars
About Monarchs
Protecting Monarchs Brochures
Pollinator Learning Center