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Correctional facilities join the fight to save the monarch butterfly

Jun 08, 2017


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The Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative is working to engage all Ohioans with monarch conservation, including nontraditional conservation partners. One such partner has answered the call to save the monarch - the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Saving the monarch butterfly is a nontraditional conservation challenge. Eastern monarch butterfly populations have declined by 80% in the past 20 years and it will take a landscape level response to save them. Milkweed is the only host plant for monarch butterflies and as it disappears from the landscape, so do the butterflies. Milkweed seeds need to be collected from local sources, cleaned, and stratified. All of this labor adds to the cost of buying seeds from native plant nurseries.

Unlike many partners, correctional facilities don’t have the ability to interact directly with on the ground conservation actions. But correctional facilities can meet the need for labor. Depending on size and security, correctional facilities are involved in a variety of activities including preparing seeds, packaging seeds, and planting seeds to go plugs.

“Our Mental Health Department has worked to incorporate this meaningful project into their programming with successful results,” said Michael Sheeter, locksmith at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility and Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative team lead for correctional facilities in southern Ohio. “Our goal is to keep inmates engaged in activities that occupy their mind and hands, and help them to turn the page in their life to a new chapter that is more rewarding and fulfilling.”

In spring 2016, inmates from the North Central Correctional Complex in Marion County processed milkweed pods collected by the Initiative and grew 2,700 seedlings in the greenhouse onsite. As seed collection efforts expanded, the partnership opened up to correctional facilities across the state. Southern Ohio Correctional Facility assembled over 3,000 pollinator seed packets in 2016 and will make 5,000 more pollinator seed packets this year to support monarch butterfly habitat connectivity.

For many inmates, this program is the first opportunity they have had to grow seeds. Inmates are excited to see plants sprout and know that milkweed will go back to the communities they are from.

“Inmates have felt as if they are doing a service for their communities,” said Sheeter.  “It makes them feel good to be recognized and contribute to the betterment of our society and environment.”

Education is a core part of all of the correctional facilities programs. As inmates learn more about the pollination process and role pollinators play, the more interested they become in conservation efforts. Feedback about the program with the Initiative has been so positive that the Department of Corrections is offering growing equipment to facilities without greenhouses.

All of the 2 million seeds collected during Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative's 2016 statewide milkweed collection were processed by partners, including correctional facilities. Seeds are used to establish monarch butterfly habitat across the state. Seeds collected in 2016 will be grown through the fall and winter and will be planted in spring of 2018. The Initiative expects even more participation during the fall 2017 statewide milkweed collection.

“Southern Ohio Correctional Facility looks forward to a continued relationship with Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative and its partners,” said Sheeter. “If we can do our part to efficiently support the efforts of this state’s community members and continue to support the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s mission to ‘Reduce Recidivism Among Those We Touch’. It’s a win for everyone involved”.

As more states look toward innovative approaches to saving the monarch butterfly, Sheeter offers this advice. “The more people you have involved and the more coordination you have that incorporates everyone, the better off you're going to be. That’s because everyone has their own resources and not one agency can do this on their own.”

The Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative and other partners help create pollinator habitat to achieve the Pollinator Health Task Force’s goals of 7 million acres of pollinator habitat established across North America over the next 5 years and increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million butterflies.

For more information about the Ohio Pollinators Habitat Initiative contact Lori Stevenson by email at or Marci Lininger by email at

Correctional facilities with horticulture programs grow milkweed seeds into plugs. Plugs are planted across the state to improve pollinator habitat. Photo by Lori Stevenson/USFWS.

Above: Correctional facilities with horticulture programs grow milkweed seeds into plugs. Plugs are planted across the state to improve pollinator habitat. Photo by Lori Stevenson/USFWS.


Story originally published in the USFWS Inside Region 3 Newsletter: By Melissa A. Clark, USFWS Region 3 Regional Office - External Affairs.

The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo by courtesy of DeVaughnSquire/Creative Commons.