A new initiative led by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Resources Center aims to enlist energy companies and transportation agencies in an effort to save the monarch butterfly.
UIC experts will help establish conservation agreements that incentivize non-federal landowners to adapt their land management practices to benefit monarchs, which experts say are at risk of becoming extinct in 20 years. The agreements, a regulatory mechanism under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will involve conservation measures such as maintaining plants that monarchs and other pollinators need for survival.
Populations of the iconic orange-and-black butterfly – Illinois’ state insect – have decreased by more than 80 percent over the past two decades due to habitat loss, unintentional exposure to insecticides and herbicides, and climate change.
A primary factor in the monarch’s plight is the loss of land containing native flowering plants such as milkweed, the only source of food for monarch larvae. Despite being native to Illinois, the plant has started to disappear from farmland because of the use of herbicides on crops.
As part of its initiative, UIC will encourage its partners to follow a vegetation management strategy that promotes stable, low-growing plants that are able to resist invasion by tall tree species.
“Participating organizations can ensure that monarchs have more food and habitat available, while also continuing to deliver safe transportation and energy,” said Iris Caldwell, program manager of UIC’s Energy Resources Center and lead coordinator of the initiative, in a statement.
The conservation effort targets nearly 2 million acres of land in 45 states, through the creation of new habitat or preservation of existing ones. UIC will work with nearly 25 partner entities, including the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The new program comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to monitor monarch population trends and evaluate conservation strategies, with the goal of restoring monarch populations to a sustainable level.
Late last year, Illinois lawmakers approved a bill that prohibits counties and cities from classifying milkweed as a noxious or exotic weed, a designation that prevents it from being planted in those areas. The goal of the bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner, is to help the state restore some of its lost milkweed habitat.