Monarch butterflies are a hot topic these days; everyone is talking about them. They pop up in expected places like gatherings of environmentalists, but also casually among gardeners, teachers and school children. When a conversation gets going, it doesn’t take long for someone to mention Pat Miller. The long time monarch advocate frequently speaks around DuPage and recently appeared at the Children’s Monarch Fest sponsored by the Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition. An impressive string of credentials follows her name, including Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist, Master Gardener, and Master Naturalist. She is the woman the Chicago Tribune dubbed “Queen of the Monarchs.”
It wasn’t always this way. A decade ago, monarchs were just pretty butterflies people remembered from their childhood or had once seen in their garden. The monarch movement came to DuPage in 2005 when Jane Foulser, a long time Sierra Club member and activist visited a friend in Lawrence Kansas, one of the epicenters for monarch research and conservation, where she met Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch. She learned of the threats facing the migrating butterflies and their dramatic decline. Taylor had just kicked off the Monarch Waystation program, a habitat replacement solution directed at gardeners. Foulser, an accomplished gardener, quickly saw how easily gardens could be modified into monarch friendly oases if gardeners knew what to do. Her experience as a Sierra Club activist had prepared her for taking this message to the community and she was eager to get started.
When Foulser returned to Elmhurst, she enlisted long time friend Pat Miller to join her in taking the message to the community. They began by modifying and registering their own gardens with Monarch Watch, the first in DuPage to be added to the registry, then the two monarch crusaders took to the speaking circuit with posters and power point in hand. They believed ten local waystations with milkweed and nectar plants, especially the fall blooming species like asters and goldenrods that supply fuel for migration could be registered in the first year. By 2006, nine more waystations had been added to the registry. The goal had been reached and Miller had found a calling.
Twelve years into the Monarch Waystation program, Miller’s garden beautifully exemplifies what her talks describe as the solution to the declining number of monarchs, which threatens its ability to bounce back from extreme weather events and exposure to insecticides. The front and back yards are a mix of milkweed and the more traditional flowers found in suburban gardens, harmoniously combined into several flowing perennial beds.
Becoming a monarch messenger was a natural for Miller. She grew up as an “outdoor kid” in central Illinois, directly experiencing nature and making discoveries on her own. Her fresh delivery and enthusiasm for talking about monarchs is fueled by a desire to pass along the wonder and joy of her childhood to a generation of kids spending less and less time outdoors. Butterflies are a safe and engaging ambassador for the insects children are encountering less frequently in parks, preserves and their own yards.
“Maybe the single most important thing we can do for conservation in general,” writes Anurag Agrawal, author of Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, A Poisonous Plant and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, “is to give people an appreciation of nature.” When Miller passes around monarch eggs, caterpillars and the iconic orange and black butterfly to her audience while telling the story of a life cycle that includes a 3000 mile migration, she is giving them a connection to the natural world. Suddenly they see their backyards as habitat and how their gardens fit into the bigger picture, as a trail of resting places dotting a long and arduous journey.
Her message is being heard. What began with two waystations in DuPage County grew to 241 by 2017.
Monarchs still need our help. Monarch Joint Venture has put out a call for an “all hands on deck” approach to creating the amount of habitat necessary for a population of butterflies large enough to weather normal annual variations. Miller is confident it can be done, one garden at a time.
“We make choices every day,” said Miller, “what we wear, what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to squish a bug. We have so much power in our everyday choices. Don’t ever forget how much power you have to change things.”
The DuPage Monarch Project and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County are holding a pollinator themed art exhibit May 2 – June 1, 2018 at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.
Submissions are welcome Feb 1st – April 15 2018. Additional details and dates are available on the poster.
All pollinator themed work is welcome, bees, bugs, beetles, bats and butterflies.
When Keith Knautz, Director of Glendale Heights Parks and Recreation, found out about the declining population of monarchs, he shared what he had learned with his wife, an avid gardener. They talked about the many monarchs they had seen as kids and how rare spottings are today.
The good news was there was something the Glendale Heights Park District could do to help monarchs recover some of their lost habitat — plant a waystation.
Chuck Dymbrowski, Lead Foreman for the Park District contacted Dupage Monarch Project to learn more about waystations. With suggestions in hand and a list of plants, an appropriate site was found at the Village’s Historic House.
On May 8th, volunteers from the Eaton Corporation based in Glendale Heights, planted a waystation.
The garden will settle in this spring and summer, maturing into an inviting spot for monarchs to find food and lay eggs, where caterpillars will munch milkweed and transform into butterflies.
Thank you Keith Knautz, Chuck Dymbrowski and Eaton Corp volunteers for being part of the recovery effort and helping to protect the Illinois state butterfly.
West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda announced at the recent State of the City Address that he was proud to have signed the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF’s) Mayors’ Monarch Pledge in March as a means to bring awareness and to promote action in West Chicago to save the Monarch butterfly.
A critical pollinator to the agricultural system, the monarch’s population has declined by over 90 percent in the last twenty years. It is the NWF’s belief that when Mayors speak up and take a stand, citizens listen. A copy of the NWF Mayors’ Monarch Pledge may be found on the City’s website, http://www.westchicago.org under Government/Mayor for your information, along with the list of twenty-five possible actions the City could take (only three are required) to fulfill the Pledge.
While monarchs are found across the United States — numbering some 1 billion in 1996 — their numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in recent years, a result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion. Degradation of wintering habitat in Mexico and California has also had a negative impact on the species.
Community groups in West Chicago including the West Chicago Garden Club, the Green Disciples of the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) of West Chicago and the West Chicago Environmental Commission, advocated for the signing of the Pledge because of its associated benefits to the environment and the high level of community support such a Pledge would bring to implementation measures.
As stated in a letter from the Environmental Commission to the City, there would be little or no cost to the City to implement the action items. The Environmental Commission specifically recommended eight action items that could be accomplished as joint efforts between community partners and the Conservation Foundation. In fact, efforts by the FUMC and Ball Horticultural Company have already begun, with portions of their grounds certified as “monarch way stations” by Monarch Watch, an organization also concerned about the survival of the Monarch butterfly.
Through the NWFs Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, cities and municipalities commit to creating habitats and educating citizens on ways they can make a difference in their very own home. “Mayors and other local government officials play a pivotal role in advancing monarch butterfly conservation in urban and suburban areas,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “By working together we can ensure that every American child has a chance to experience majestic monarchs in their backyards and communities.”
On March 16, the Village of Westmont adopted a resolution to support the DuPage Monarch Project, which is an organized effort to improve and increase available monarch habit. The resolution, which was initiated by the Westmont Environmental Improvement Commission (EIC), brings awareness to the concern of diminished butterfly populations.
“The DuPage Monarch Project is pleased and excited by the Village of Westmont’s monarch resolution and its commitment to monarch and pollinator conservation,” said Lonnie Morris, Coordinator of the DuPage Monarch Project. “The growing number of monarch friendly communities in DuPage means there are more opportunities to learn from each other, share ideas and create oases of habitat within range for the short flights of native bees and butterflies.”
The EIC has coordinated a spring speaker series on a host of environment-related topics. On Wednesday, May 3, 7 p.m. at the Westmont Public Library, 428 N. Cass Avenue, the topic will be “WHERE ARE THE MONARCHS?” The presentation will feature local resident Pat Miller who will look at historical environmental factors that affect the monarch butterfly population. Miller will share information about efforts to turn the tide of butterfly population decline and what can be done to help.
The Village of Westmont and Clarendon Hills also continue to move forward together with the Richmond Education Garden & Apiary project, which will feature a butterfly-friendly habitat. There have also been conversations about possibly introducing natural vegetation improvements along the BNSF railroad corridor to further assist with this initiative.
For more information on how you can support butterfly habitat, visit the DuPage Monarch Project website at dupagemonarchs.com and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Website at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/PollinatorGarden.html
The Glen Ellyn Park District signed a monarch resolution on February 7th, formalizing a longstanding commitment to monarch conservation. The Park District is the seventh municipal entity to endorse DuPage Monarch Project’s goal of expanding and improving habitat for a butterfly that in recent years has experienced an alarming and precipitous decline in population.
Students at Ben Franklin Elementary School kicked off Glen Ellyn’s summer of monarchs in 2015 when they decided to learn more about the challenges facing the butterfly and what could be done to help them. Their interest quickly expanded beyond the classroom into a collaborative, village wide effort between the Village of Glen Ellyn, Park District, Public Library, School District 41, and Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Monarchs were featured on banners, two monarch programs were presented at the library, over 80 volunteers participated in planting two new butterfly gardens, approximately 800 milkweed plants were given away or planted and hundreds of milkweed seed packets were distributed.
“Glen Ellyn is a powerful example of how diverse public bodies can cooperate and work together on an issue like monarch conservation,” said Lonnie Morris, Coordinator for the DuPage Monarch Project. “Each one made a contribution that added up to Glen Ellyn being monarch friendly from their parks and public spaces into residential gardens.”
The 2015 summer of monarch initiatives will be ongoing under the newly signed resolution, which sets monarch protection and habitat as park district priorities.It may take many years for the butterfly to recover, but Glen Ellyn is already preparing the next generation of conservationists by introducing young people to the joys of discovering the natural world.
“Searching for monarch eggs and caterpillars is a favorite activity for kids who come through our nature camp programs,” said Renae Frigo, a naturalist with the Glen Ellyn Park District. “The past few years has proved more challenging to find them, but once the campers know what to look for, they cannot help but check milkweed plants during other activities. Watching a child walk past a plant, flip the leaf to look for monarch activity, warms my heart. They are hopeful in their search, and it reminds me that we should be hopeful for the species, that we are moving in a better direction.”
Emily Hansen and Kathleen McTighe took a giant leap into the unknown when asked to help monarchs. Their shared concern for the imperiled butterfly launched them into the public arena and saw them through to a successful outcome.
Hansen and McTighe already had a history with native plants, the key to healthy monarch habitat, when they agreed to be advocates for the butterfly. McTighe, a retired elementary school teacher had recently redesigned her landscape, replacing traditional plantings with wildlife friendly natives. Hansen’s environmental roots began with a degree in Natural Resources Conservation and employment on various ecological restoration projects. They also shared a connection with Denise Sandoval, a local member of Wild Ones and DuPage Monarch Project (DMP), who called upon them when DMP was looking for volunteers to reach out to municipal leaders in Naperville.
Emily Hansen and Kathleen McTighe at Knoch Knolls Nature Center, Naperville
Hansen and McTighe’s first step as new activists was to learn as much as they could before approaching decision makers. Wanting to know more about the activist process, they turned to Connie Schmidt, DuPage Monarch Project board member and seasoned activist. Schmidt outlined the recommended steps: researching the monarch’s situation and proposed solutions, looking into what their community was already doing, connecting with like minded people, using the model resolution on DMP’s website as a starting point and asking questions all along the way.
“Kathleen and Emily had little previous experience in community advocacy work,” said Schmidt, “but sitting around a kitchen table gazing out into a native garden we immediately formed a bond. They cared deeply about improving habitat for native species and were willing to jump out of their comfort zone into the board rooms to get the backing of their local Park district on this critical issue.”
What at first felt overwhelming quickly became an adventure. They began with Naperville’s 41page Sustainability Plan. Naperville, as one of Sierra Club’s Cool Cities, has a plan that focuses primarily on energy and transportation policies, development and resources. It was new to Hansen and McTighe and left then feeling proud of their city’s commitment to sustainability. Additional research revealed the city had recently planted a pollinator garden over the garage at the Municipal Center. City staff informed them Naperville had approved a monarch pledge and it would be announced in spring of 2017.
With the city already on board, Hansen and McTighe turned their attention to the Park District. Naperville has 2400 acres of parkland and the two of them set off on a series of mini field trips to familiarize themselves with the local parks, including Knoch Knolls Nature Center. They found milkweed in a native planting at Knoch Knolls and the building was certified LEED Platinum with many state of the art sustainability features.
Pride in their community continued to grow.
Hansen and McTighe encountered a reservoir of support for monarchs when they reached out to local gardening groups. Members of the Naperville Community Gardeners raised their hands in support within minutes of hearing about the monarch resolution.
Confidence grew every step of the way from the encouragement and warm, supportive responses they received. The City and Park District were already taking action to help pollinators, the community was eager to support a resolution, and they were speaking on behalf of a county-wide initiative. Within a few short months of becoming DuPage Monarch Project spokespersons, the Naperville Park District signed a Monarch Resolution.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a passion,” said McTighe. “Follow you heart and passions and know there are great rewards in making a difference.”
The Village of Glen Ellyn will become a haven for butterflies thanks to a partnership with The Conservation Foundation as part of its Conservation In Our Community program.
The program kicks off with a free workshop, “Invite Nature Into Your Yard,” at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center on Wednesday, March 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. The program will introduce residents to The Conservation Foundation’s popular Conservation@Home program encouraging the use of native plant species for landscaping yards.
“We’re delighted that Glen Ellyn is demonstrating a commitment to conservation by getting everyone involved,” Program Director Jan Roehll said.
Glen Ellyn and the Glen Ellyn Park District join six other DuPage County communities — Carol Stream, Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Naperville, Warrenville, and Lisle — to engage citizens to become conservation-conscious through various sustainable local projects.
Homeowners will learn what plants attract butterflies as part of the Fox Valley Monarch Corridor Project to restore habitats along the migratory routes of this threatened species. Those involved can become Conservation@Home certified and participate in a garden walk of the homes in the program later this summer.
Plans also are underway to work with the village and park district to plant The Conservation Foundation’s Pollinator Meadow Mix to attract butterflies and other native species. Meadow Mix is an alternative to traditional turf grass in public areas and around municipal buildings and requires minimal upkeep.
The Conservation In Our Community program is possible through a $20,000 grant from the DuPage Foundation with support from DuPage County Stormwater Management. Each municipality has contributed a small portion to help fund this effort and The Conservation Foundation will provide the guidance needed to help implement the projects.
For information on Conservation In Our Community, call Jan Roehll, (630) 428-4500, ext. 121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Conservation Foundation, celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2017, is one of the region’s oldest and largest not-for-profit land and watershed conservation organizations. Since it was founded in 1972, TCF has helped preserve nearly 33,000 acres of open space, restored and cleaned miles of rivers and streams, and educated thousands of kids by engaging them in nature and the outdoors.
Work is focused in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will Counties to preserve and restore nature in your neighborhood. Find out more at theconservationfoundation.org.