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.