Summit in Springfield will look at monarch decline

Springfield —  The creature certainly gets around, but Illinois has always been significant to the monarch butterfly.

And vice-versa.

In fact, the state designated the monarch as the official state insect in 1975 – the result of lobbying by Illinois schoolchildren

More than 40 years later DNR and other state agencies are scheduled to meet in Springfield this summer to discuss ways to rebuild the state’s monarch population

Loss of habitat – including the milkweed vital to monarch breeding – invasive species, herbicides and pesticides are among the topics on the agenda for the Butterfly Summit, set for Sept. 9. The summit is also part of a joint U.S. effort with Canada and Mexico to rebuild monarch populations that have dropped up to 90 percent in two decades.

“Illinois is at the heart of the prime area for monarch migration,” said Ann Holtrop, chief of DNR’s natural heritage division.

Meanwhile, DNR is conducting an online survey of various industries, urban areas and educational institutions ahead of the summit on local efforts to create monarch habitat that might be applied statewide. The U.S. Fish and Wild Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture have designated Illinois as a high-priority area for coordinated habitat-restoration areas with Mexico and Canada. According to USFWS, millions of monarchs wintered on 10 acres near Mexico City in 2015-16, down from a peak of more than nearly 45 acres in 1996-97.

“We’re going to need all hands on deck,” said Holtrop. “We need highway and utility right-of-ways, and to see what opportunities there are in agriculture.”

DNR has urged homeowners and commercial companies to use native flowering plants in landscaping. The agency also is asking farmers, transportation agencies and utilities to avoid mowing or spraying milkweed, which grows readily across along the edges of fields, highways shoulders and utility right-of-ways.

The monarch is more than just another pretty butterfly, and the Illinois state insect, said Holtrop.

Monarchs, like honeybees and bumblebees, are vital to pollination of flowers and gardens.

“They have such a unique life and a complex migration,” said Holtrop. “We don’t want to wait for the populations to fall even lower.”

Monarchs usually begin to arrive in Illinois in early summer and remain until sometime in September, when the migration to Mexico begins. Milkweed and prairie flowers sought by monarchs have been planted in some parts of the state, including at Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield.

Lincoln Garden also is part of a national monarch monitoring network that tracks migration routes, said executive director Joel Horwedel.

“We have a pretty good population of monarchs at the Ostermeier Center, and hope they will help educate people,” Horwedel told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register.

Monarch population estimates are based on acres in the Mexico wintering grounds. Mexico established the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in 1980 by setting aside 138,000 acres in a mountainous region 60 miles from Mexico City.

While the 10 acres occupied last winter was well below the 45-acre peak in 1996-97, last year’s number was up from 2.8 acres in the winter of 2013-14, according to figures from the USFWS.

Joanna Gilkeson with the USFWS regional office for the Midwest said it’s too soon to determine whether last year’s figures represent a trend.

“By increasing milkweeds and nectar plants, our goal is to restore the monarch population to a size that occupies 15 acres of wintering habitat in Mexico and 225 million butterflies by 2020,” Gilkeson said.

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