FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 15, 2016
Statewide Summit Addresses Need for Illinois Monarch Butterfly Plan
Each autumn, eastern monarch butterflies return to Illinois, dotting harvest-ready fields and cornflower blue skies with their iconic, graceful orange and black as they make their long journey back to their winter home in Mexico. Over the past decade, monarchs have become a much rarer sight in Illinois and across the Midwest as eastern monarch populations have plummeted by as much as 80% by some counts. Monarch butterflies rely on various species of milkweed during their 3000 mile migration each year from Mexico across the Midwestern U.S. to Canada, reproducing in multiple generations before a final generation makes its way back south to overwinter in Mexico and begin the cycle anew. Milkweed and other native flowers that monarchs need to sustain their populations are in decline due to habitat fragmentation and aggressive weeding.
Illinois and the other states in the monarch’s Midwestern flyway are working to develop a regional strategy to expand milkweed and native flowering plants that monarchs need to survive. “Illinois is a hot spot for monarch habitat,” says Ann Marie Holtrop, Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Department of Natural Heritage. “Our state is centrally located in the monarch migration path and provides important breeding and feeding habitat for migrating monarchs as they make their way north in the spring and south in the fall,” says Holtrop.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with Prairie Rivers Network and the University of Illinois at Chicago, co-hosted a Statewide Monarch Summit last week that brought together state and federal agencies; organizations representing agriculture, conservation lands, urban areas, research and education; and rights of way owners and managers to explore ways to collaborate to expand monarch habitat across Illinois. Carol Hays, Executive Director of Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois’ affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, presented results of a survey conducted last spring to identify the types of monarch conservation activities that are being implemented across the state. “We already have a great start to build from,” said Hays, “but we all need to work together if we are to save the monarch.”
Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will be assessing the status of the eastern monarch butterfly for endangered species protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Service is currently gathering information to determine whether the monarch needs protection under the ESA. Illinois is one of many states in the Midwest that intends to develop a conservation strategy for the Monarch Butterfly that could be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in lieu of listing. During this time, conservation efforts are also underway to help provide food and habitat for monarchs across the landscape. In order to be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, IDNR must submit Illinois’ monarch conservation strategy by early summer of 2018. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that they will issue a listing decision by June 2019.
Illinois farmland and rural areas provide important opportunities for monarch habitat. Recent research by the Field Museum also points to many habitat opportunity areas that can be found in open spaces throughout Chicago and other urbanized areas. Another target for monarch habitat are the rights-of-way along highways, county roads, utility lines, and railroads. “Rights-of-way connect all sorts of landscapes that provide valuable monarch butterfly habitat. In addition, the rights-of-way themselves can be managed as habitat, particularly in areas where the adjacent lands are less favorable,“ says Iris Caldwell of the University of Illinois at Chicago who facilitates the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group.
“Preserving the monarch butterfly is the conservation movement of our generation,” says Hays. “The monarch is our state insect and protecting it by planting milkweed and other food sources is something everyone young and old across the state can get involved in.”
One new way to get involved in monarch protection is to purchase a monarch license plate sticker, from the Illinois Secretary of State. Two thousand of the specialty tag stickers must be sold, however, before they will be printed and made available. To stay informed about the state’s monarch initiative, visit https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/