DuPage Monarch Project is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020 Jane Foulser Habitat and Pat Miller Community Engagement awards on Tuesday January 19th at 2:00 pm. You are invited to join us in recognizing these outstanding achievements in increasing pollinator habitat and the community’s awareness of solutions for monarch decline.
Are you wondering why you’re being invited to share in celebrating these inspiring butterfly projects? It’s because you can make a difference in saving monarchs. You are part of the solution
In December, the US Fish and Wildlife Service responded to a request to list monarch butterflies as threatened due to a steady decrease in their number. After six years of reviewing the research, it was determined monarchs are threatened but federal protection would not be granted at this time. The USFWS decision means local conservation projects are even more critical to the survival of monarch butterflies.
For now, protecting monarchs is up to us.
Your landscaping can be part of the solution to monarch decline by adding milkweed and fall blooming asters and making small changes in maintenance practices like when areas are mowed and cleaned up in spring and fall. The Illinois Monarch Project (illinoismonarchproject.org) has set a goal of 150 million new stems of milkweed by 2038. Every new stem planted at home, or at a school, library or church garden helps IMP reach that goal.
The cities, villages, park districts, garden clubs and churches participating in the DuPage Monarch Project are making progress on the shared vision of a monarch friendly county with habitat stretching from Wayne to Naperville and Bensenville to Darien. Working together, the goal is within our reach.
We encourage you to widely share the link with interested staff and volunteers. Saving monarchs needs all hands-on deck, everyone is welcome to participate.
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, dedicated to the protection of monarch butterflies and pollinators.
On January 19th at 2:00 pm, DuPage Monarch Project will announce the recipients of the 2020 Jane Foulser Habitat and Pat Miller Community Engagement awards. Two park districts are being recognized for their outstanding achievements in monarch conservation. You’re invited to join us in honoring them for their important contribution to the recovery of monarch butterflies. (link to the remote event is forthcoming)
You might wonder about the two women whose legacy is being honored with the awards. Jane Foulser and Pat Miller are now retired from their volunteer work on behalf of monarchs but they built the foundation for monarch conservation that DuPage Monarch Project is continuing.
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 made dozens of presentations throughout DuPage, appeared at the 2017 Children’s Monarch Fest sponsored by the Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition and for years guided the monarch tagging event at Cantigny. 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 called the “Queen of the Monarchs.”
It wasn’t always this way. A fifteen years ago, monarchs were just pretty butterflies people remembered from their childhood or had once seen in the garden. The monarch movement came to DuPage in 2005 when Jane Foulser, a long time Sierra Club member and environmental 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 exemplified what her talks described 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 were 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 was 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 passed around monarch eggs, caterpillars and the iconic orange and black butterfly to her audience while telling the story of a life cycle that includes an astonishing 3000 mile migration, she gave them a connection to the natural world. Suddenly, backyards were seen as habitat and gardeners came to understand how their gardens fit into the bigger picture, as a trail of resting places dotting a long and arduous journey.
Her message has been heard. What began with two waystations in DuPage County grew to 437 by the end of 2020.
Monarchs still need our help. Monarch Joint Venture has put out a call for “all hands on deck” for creating the amount of habitat necessary for a population of butterflies large enough to weather normal annual gains and losses. Local conservation efforts became even more essential after the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that monarch butterflies met the criteria for designation as a threatened species but delayed federal protection for several years.
Miller is confident monarch butterflies can be saved, 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.”
This is not a scientific essay. It’s more personal than that.
Everything I know about bioblitzes comes from one person. Plus now I’ve googled the term. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up. I’m an older person of the Boomer generation, and before this year, I’d had very little to do with biology since high school. I think that makes me like most people. But then, in the year I would turn seventy, a pandemic happened. Some areas of biology gained relevance for me. A runny nose causes me concern, in myself or in someone else. I wear a mask when I rarely go out, and I maintain social distance. The pandemic also affects what I read. This year, among other fiction and nonfiction, I’ve read The Great Influenza, Station Eleven, The Sixth Extinction, The Stand, and The Ancestor’s Tale. Some of those are pandemic related, but all of them have more to do with biology than almost anything I’d read in fifty years.
So, bioblitz. Am I involved because of the pandemic? Well, no. This is where that other person comes in. She told me about the iNaturalist app, so I said I’d give it a try. That’s what I did, on the very last day of this other thing that she told me of—a bioblitz. Why I waited until the last day is complex. It’s as much an aversion on my part to new things as anything else—I dislike being a newbie. Plus I don’t take pictures well, even as cameras have gotten simpler in the last few decades. So, on the last day, I said to myself, “Now or never, Frank” and I managed to find four things, all in my neighborhood. One was a milkweed plant. We have several of those, and they used to have all their leaves eaten, with caterpillars around them. Now, not so much—they grow untouched. One picture that I missed was of a small mushroom, the size of a quarter, which I had seen for the last week or so, across the street. It had regular radial ridges on the top of the cap. But when I went back, it was gone. Oh well. All in all, I did not get my knees or elbows dirty, and my dog waited while I took the photos.
As I’ve learned, the purpose of a bioblitz is to establish what all the species are in a given area, and to do so in a self-documenting fashion. The goal is to encourage participation and make it easy and (dare I say?) fun. Cell phones, with cameras and GPS for the documentation, make it easier—thus the iNaturalist app. I did not get into the details—just figured out where the pictures happened, and went from there. The first thing it told me was that I have no content. I don’t think anything I did changed that.
So, pandemics and bioblitzes! My return, after fifty years, to biology. Or maybe biology’s return to me, all karmic motion being relative.
Frank Fedele is a writer, poet and member of the Naperville Writers Group
“Milkweed for monarchs” has become the rallying cry for their recovery but having enough energy for successfully completing the autumn migration to Mexico is also critical to their survival. Identifying where monarchs are refueling during migration is an important part of a strategy for their preservation and a Bioblitz is a good way to begin answering that question.
DuPage Monarch Project participated in Parks for Pollinators, a bioblitz sponsored by National Recreation and Parks and Scotts Miracle-Gro to look for answers to that question along with many others. The September timing of this year’s blitz was perfect for capturing monarch flower visitations during peak migration in our area.
National Geographic defines a bioblitz as “… an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time.” DuPage Monarch Project’s bioblitz included all of DuPage County, ran from September 12 – 20th and focused on pollinating insects, hummingbirds and flowering plants. Using the free smartphone app iNaturalist inaturalist.org for photographing and identifying species provided a technology for conducting it remotely.
Turn out for the blitz was strong with 164 participants. Over 962 photographs were taken with 111 insect and 200 plant species identified. The most frequently observed insect was the common eastern bumblebee with monarch butterflies a close second. Monarchs were observed on asters and goldenrod confirming their importance as nectar sources but also in equal numbers on zinnias, thistles and native sunflowers.
The diversity of insects identified ranged from skippers, moths and butterflies to wasps, bees, flies and beetles. Six ruby-throated hummingbirds, also migrating through DuPage at this time of year, were spotted.
Want to see what’s flowering and their insect visitors? All observations can be viewed on inaturalist.org by clicking on projects in the dashboard then searching for Parks for Pollinators: DuPage Monarch Project.
DuPage Monarch Projects hopes you’ll join us for Pollinator BioBlitz 2021 as the search continues for the most beneficial monarch habitat.
DuPage Monarch Project: Communities Protecting Pollinators is a partnership of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Sierra Club’s River Prairie Group, The Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter. https://dupagemonarchs.com/