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dupage monarch project: communities protecting pollinators

Milkweed for Monarchs in DuPage Forest Preserves

The DuPage Monarch Project is a collaboration of four local environmental and conservation organizations, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, River Prairie Group of the Illinois Sierra Club, The Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter. Each of these organizations is individually involved with protecting monarch butterflies and pollinators while supporting the outreach efforts and county wide networking of the DuPage Monarch Project.

THE FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT PROTECTS ALL POLLINATORS

The Forest Preserve District’s mission is “to acquire and hold lands containing forests, prairies, wetlands and associated plant communities or lands capable of being restored to such natural conditions for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna and scenic beauty for the education, pleasure and recreation of its citizens.”

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County manages 26,000 acres of land in their preserves and leased properties and all of them have at least one species of milkweed, with two species in 67 preserves and at least three species in 55. West Chicago Prairie and Waterfall Glen, two of the largest preserves, have 8 species of milkweed.

Hear more about the species of milkweed in the preserves and where they are found in this presentation by Andres Ortega, Forest Preserve Ecologist. https://youtu.be/0lbMPR_P28w

The District is managing their land for all pollinators. All preserves have at least one species of “bee super food” like wild bergamot. A “bee super food” is a more nutritious plant with a higher than average content of protein and amino acids.

Bumblebee on wild bergamot

The District’s land management strategies are undertaken in ways that protect pollinators while enhancing their habitat. Invasive species are removed to open up land for beneficial plants using three techniques; prescribed burns, mowing and herbicides applied under Integrated Pest Management guidelines. When conducting prescribed burns, adjacent areas are left unburned to promote rapid recolonization, mowing is done at higher heights and slower speeds and herbicides are selectively applied on targeted plants.

Volunteers regularly monitor butterflies and the endangered species like the rusty-patch bumblebee and Baltimore checkerspot butterfly are monitored by staff. Monitoring provides data on population increases and declines for informing future planning decisions.

Hear more about how the Forest Preserve District manages land for pollinators in this presentation by Andres Ortega, Ecologist. https://youtu.be/0lbMPR_P28w

Fermilab Natural Areas Joins DuPage Monarch Project as an Associate Member

When we think of Fermilab—America’s particle physics and accelerator laboratory—we can’t help but focus on science and technology, on the study of the smallest particles and the most expansive forces in the universe.

But Fermilab’s 6,800-acre site in Batavia, Illinois also provides a variety of habitats for many of the more familiar treasures of nature, including butterflies and bees. The campus includes 1,000 acres of restored grasslands, to mention just one ecosystem. These habitats are under the care of ecologist Wally Levernier, and are supported by the Fermilab Natural Areas (FNA), a not-for-profit organization.

Levernier recently promoted and obtained clearance for the FNA to join the DuPage Monarch Project (DMP) as an associate member. The all-volunteer, donation- and grant-funded FNA network manages, restores and enhances the natural areas and resources of Fermilab in order to maintain and improve their ecological health and biodiversity.

Volunteers help to maintain the prairie by removing non-native invasive plants and collecting seeds in autumn.

Fermilab plays an important role in recovering rare species and in maintaining high levels of wildlife diversity. According to a fact sheet on their website, 54 species of butterflies have been observed on site. And the Fermilab prairies were the site for the reintroduction of the Baltimore checkerspot, a butterfly in decline. So it’s a natural fit for FNA to align with DMP’s mission of protecting monarchs, rusty patched bumblebees and the many pollinator species in decline.

FNA is one of 12 partners awarded the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Its volunteers help monitor and gather data on plants and wildlife, including pollinators, to measure the success of restoration and conservation efforts, and to use the data for research.

Education is an important aspect of their mission, and they typically provide summer and fall internships for college students studying biology or environmental science. Once the danger of COVID-19 passes, FNA plans to return to the internships as well as holding bird, butterfly and native bee hikes, volunteer workdays, and ecology events for teachers and students.

In the meantime, we welcome FNA to the DuPage Monarch Project, and we look forward to getting up close with Fermilab’s natural treasures that surround the study of the wonders of the universe.

Village of Westmont Kicks Off “No Mow Till Mother’s Day” Initiative

How often do you get a chance to accomplish something good by doing nothing? By taking it easy on lawn mowing for at least a few weeks in spring, we can help provide a favorable habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies. 

The Village of Westmont has taken a formal step toward encouraging this behavior with its “No Mow Till Mother’s Day” program. The Environmental Improvement Commission (EIC) proposed, the Public Works Committee recently recommended, and the Village Board approved, a resolution to launch the program.

Westmont residents are invited to register online. Once enrolled, they will not be subject to lawn-mowing code enforcement through Mother’s Day, May 9. After that date, regular enforcement resumes.

People may even choose to designate a specific small section of their yard for the no-mow event. The village will provide and deliver yard signs to explain the reason for the taller grass and “weedy” species like white clover, violets and dandelions.

“Pollinators are essential to the success of our environment,” said Jon Yeater, who helped launch the program. Many species of pollinators live on lawns after they emerge from hibernation in the spring, he said. By not mowing during this critical time, pollinator habitat is left mostly undisturbed, which allows the flowers that pollinators rely on to grow at a time when resources might otherwise be scarce.

The first initiative of its kind in the DuPage area, the program was inspired by a similar one in Appleton, Wisconsin, which focused on giving bees a boost. Appleton’s 2020 “No Mow May” lawns found a fivefold increase in bee abundance and a threefold increase in bee diversity in June, compared to nearby parkland that was mowed regularly.

Pollinator- and butterfly-friendly lawn and garden practices help replace habitat lost to development, and provide a way for people and pollinators to happily thrive together. Timing lawn mowing for the benefit of early spring pollinators is an important step in promoting their recovery.

Who can argue with being lazy if not doing something will help the butterflies and bees?

Darien Garden Club Joins County Wide Effort to Save Monarch Butterflies

The Darien Garden Club took its first step to save monarch butterflies a few years ago when a butterfly garden was planted at St. John Lutheran Church, the location for its monthly meeting. By 2020, the club was ready to link their educational outreach and monarch habitat projects to the county wide conservation effort by becoming an associate member of the DuPage Monarch Project.  DuPage Monarch Project is a collaboration of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, River Prairie Group of the Illinois Sierra Club, The Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter with a goal of supporting and fostering monarch conservation throughout the county by connecting public and private landowners managing land in pollinator friendly ways.

“While enjoying the rewards of maintaining monarch and pollinator habitat many of us were following the exciting progress and inspirational goals set by organizations such as DuPage Monarch Project,” said Cathy Streett, Darien Garden Club Community Outreach/Service Project Chair. “We look forward to working together as an associate member of DMP to advocate for monarch butterflies and in turn all native insects and wildlife.  We hope that our energy and progress in these areas will serve as an example and filter down to others in our community to bring yet more support to struggling insects.”

Conservation education has been a part of the club’s mission from its inception 20 years ago and has been regularly included as a component of their annual Spring Gardening Inspiration event.  Conservation education turned into action when the club learned about the dramatic decrease in the number of eastern monarch butterflies.  Gardeners are uniquely equipped to help butterflies and pollinators as gardens are part of the solution to reversing their decline.  The loss of native trees, shrubs and flowers through urban development and the ongoing conversion of natural areas to farmland is a contributing factor to the dwindling populations of butterflies and native bees.  Yards can replace lost habitat by shrinking the amount of lawn and increasing areas planted with native species, especially milkweed, an essential plant for monarch butterflies.  

Last year, the club provided every member with two native plants to increase the habitat value of their gardens.  Several members’ gardens qualify as native landscaping and have been certified by Conservation@Home, a program of The Conservation Foundation.  The original butterfly garden was also enhanced in 2020 through the addition of 25 new plants.

Butterfly garden at St. John Lutheran Church

Saving milkweed is as important as planting it.  A few years ago, Claudia Borowski, the garden club’s president, walked past a patch of milkweed growing in an easement along a sidewalk near the Darien Police Station and City Hall and noticed evidence of spraying.  The milkweed leaves were dried and curling up, the plants were dying.  Resolved to save them, Borowski learned the land was owned by DuPage County but managed through a contractual agreement with Darien.  She decided the best way to protect the patch of over 80 milkweed plants was by getting permission from the City of Darien to post a Do Not Mow or Spray sign.  She reached out to Dan Gombac, Director of Municipal Services and was granted permission to post the sign.  

Borowski continues to be involved with the rescued milkweed, weeding the patch in summer and removing dead stalks in spring.  The healthy, thriving plants are now providing seeds for members’ gardens and to IDOT for future roadside habitat projects.

“As you can see, it only takes one person’s effort to make a big step in helping one endangered butterfly to reproduce and prosper,” said Claudia Borowski.  “So, think of how much you can do to help save a species. Look around and act.”

DGC’s Community Service Committee has recently attended several summits hosted by the Illinois Monarch Project and is exploring opportunities for working with diverse landowners to improve existing landscaping for monarchs and promote consideration of pollinators and monarchs in the planning of new projects.

“We are excited to support Illinois Monarch Project’s action plan and especially the Route 66 Monarch Flyway initiative.  We plan to provide resources and encourage businesses, public parks, IDOT right of way, and other landowners near local sections of Route 66 to add habitat to  extend the flyway throughout the state,” said Streett. 

The Illinois Monarch Project’s conservation plan extends to 2038.  Its long-range goal of saving the monarch butterfly is well matched to the commitment and enthusiasm of the Darien Garden Club.

A Four Minute Break from Winter

This year winter brought snow and a spell of bitter temperatures that kept us indoors planning gardens and dreaming of butterflies. Bridge the gap between February and May by spending four minutes with the glorious colors of flowers and butterflies filmed in DuPage parks and cities last summer.

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