Illinois Monarch project taking flight in state

Planting 150 million milkweed stems part of Illinois' strategy to keep Monarchs off the endangered list.

By Kay Shipman

Monarch Butterfly CR_horiz (1)

The Illinois Monarch Project is working to boost the monarch butterfly population, increase habitat – and prevent it from being listed as a federal threatened or endangered species, county Farm Bureau leaders heard last week.

“We, at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), share your concerns. We mow, burn and build things on our property. Our preference, like you, is not to have the monarch listed,” said Ann Holtrop, the lead on the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan and head of DNR natural heritage.  

Holtrop and Iris Caldwell, statewide coordinator of the Illinois Monarch Project and research engineer at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Energy Research Center, spoke at Illinois Farm Bureau’s Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference, Springfield.

Caldwell noted IFB, Illinois Corn Growers Association, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Illinois Department of Agriculture are part of the Monarch Project team. Lyndsey Ramsey, IFB associate director of natural and environmental resources, and Jamie Diebal, Illinois FSA, serve as point of contact representatives for the ag sector.

Illinois is developing two monarch strategies. One will be part of a multistate flyway plan that will be submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife in June. The other will be an Illinois plan to guide conservation efforts and be in place should monarchs become a threatened or endangered species.

The multistate plan, known as the Mid-Continental Monarch Conservation Strategy, released a preliminary estimate of adding 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion new milkweed stems or 29 million acres of milkweed in the multistate area by 2025, Holtrop reported. States are developing individual goals and specific plans to help achieve the regional milkweed goal, she said.

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Much of Illinois, except the southern tip which is part of a southern state group, represents 12 percent of the multistate area. Illinois “fudged” and estimated 150 million milkweed stems, or 12 percent of 1.3 billion, as a contribution toward the regional goal, Holtrop said.

“We may find out that (150 million stems) is not reasonable, and that is OK,” she continued. “In the next couple of years, we will formalize how we will work together.”

UIC is coordinating the Illinois-only strategy, known as the Illinois Monarch Project. “The goal is to work together to ensure monarchs migrate through Illinois,” Caldwell said.

An outreach campaign will build on existing efforts and “create an army of stewards across the state,” and research will ensure efforts are based on the best science, Caldwell said.

She acknowledged adding 150 million milkweed stems is a “big piece” of the strategy and will need to involve public and private lands. It is also “important we have mechanisms to track our progress” toward goals, Caldwell said.

The Illinois Monarch Project hopes to have its strategy drafted by March 2019 before Fish and Wildlife determines whether to list monarchs by June 30, 2019.

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