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‘There is something you can do’

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Illinois’ state insect since 1975, the famous North American monarch butterfly, has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Chicago-area groups dedicated to preserving the winged wonder are taking action and saying everyone can help.

The Conservation Union has added the species to its red list threatened species on Thursday, citing population loss due to widespread habitat loss and extreme weather events fueled by climate change.

“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of natural wonders, such as the unique sight of monarch butterflies migrating thousands of miles,” said IUCN Director General, Bruno Oberle, in a statement. “To preserve nature’s rich diversity, we need effective and equitably governed protected and conserved areas, as well as decisive action to combat climate change and restore ecosystems.”

The group’s announcement comes two years after US wildlife officials determined the species was at risk of extinction, but restrained to list the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act because other species are of higher priority concern. Although the IUCN statement is primarily a scientific finding, the monarch will not be legally protected until it is officially listed by the federal government.

“It’s really exciting that the IUCN has listed the monarch butterfly. It’s a great first step in recognizing the decline in their numbers,” said Matt Mulligan, Urban Biodiversity Program Manager at the Nature Conservancy. “Hopefully this will lead to national changes in terms of the Endangered Species Act, as this is currently a candidate species.”

The eastern monarch population seen in Illinois declined by 84% from 1996 to 2014, according to the IUCN. However, the western population is most at risk of extinction, having fallen from 10 million to less than 2,000 between the 1980s and 2021.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Mulligan said some of the extreme weather events that affect migratory insects are drier conditions, more extreme storms and higher winds, which make the butterfly’s 2,500-mile annual journey more difficult. He added that the use of pesticides also contributed to the decline.

Despite national trends, a volunteer group that monitors the health of butterfly populations in state preserves and natural areas has not observed statistically significant declines in monarchs locally in Illinois.

Doug Taron, director of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, said the group’s main theory for why the organization hasn’t seen a noticeable decline is that there have been fewer changes in farming practices that previously reduced the amount of milkweed for monarch caterpillars. to feed onself.

An international group of conservationists has declared the monarch butterfly endangered in North America.
– courtesy of Lonnie Morris of the DuPage Monarch Project


Local efforts

Lonnie Morris started the DuPage Monarch project in 2015 after realizing one simple thing about the orange creature: “Everybody loves them.”

“People have childhood memories, and they saw them in their backyard, and now they don’t see as many. I realized that would be a wildlife biodiversity issue that would resonate with a lot of people,” said said Morris. “And while we would be doing good for monarch butterflies, we would also be helping any pollinating species that were struggling.”

The project is a collaboration between the Forest Preserve District of DuPage, River Prairie Group, the Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones DuPage. The group has several hands-on initiatives where they plant native species to help support monarch butterflies, but they prioritize education and engagement.

Over the past seven years, the group has worked with 27 park districts and municipalities to pass resolutions to commit to managing public lands in a way that helps monarchs and other pollinators wherever possible.

“What’s really at stake here is losing a piece of a system,” Morris said. “Every insect, every plant, even all the things that live in the soil that we can’t see, all play an important role in creating a healthy ecosystem. When things start to die, the system starts to break down. “

Andres Ortega, an ecologist with DuPage County’s Forest Preserve District, said monarchs have been on the district’s radar as a declining species for some time — in part because the butterfly is a great ambassador when it comes it’s about educating people about pollinators and conservation. .

“When we want to talk to people about conservation or about butterflies, really anything about this world, they’re a great example of a species,” Ortega said. “People really seem to connect with them.”

There are a number of things people at home can do to help monarchs and other pollinators, Ortega said, the main one being restoring natural areas and introducing native plants to gardens and lawns.

“A lot of times we hear about these things happening in the world and we can feel like we have little or no control over them, from climate change to conflicts in the world,” he said. he declares. “But I always try to reassure people that at least when it comes to pollinators, understand there’s something you can do.”

Although a few plants might seem like a small thing, Ortega encouraged people to do what they can as part of a “bigger movement to try to protect these plants and animals.”

For those considering creating a pollinator garden or a lawn of native species, Morris had one main piece of advice: “Good planning makes a good garden.”

While novice gardeners might be eager to get straight into planting, Morris said starting small is key to choosing the right plants and to avoid being overwhelmed with constant maintenance.

Morris added that those specifically looking to support monarch butterflies should be sure to include the native milkweed plants the caterpillars depend on for food.