By Sally Stovall
Oak Park resident, Gina Orlando, recently shared the happy news that she saw at least 10 monarchs at the same time on a patch of the swamp/rose milkweed at Mills Park.
“Their playfulness and beauty are a joy,” Orlando said. “It was wonderful to see! And it's hopeful. They are coming back.”
After the monarch population decreased by 90 percent in the last 20 years, due to climate change, pesticides, and habitat loss, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service set a goal that 225 million monarchs will be back by 2020.
Within the past year, the mayors of Oak Park and River Forest both signed the Mayors for Monarchs pledge through the National Wildlife Federation, which is a commitment to provide a healthy habitat for monarch butterflies and to encourage citizens to do the same. The Village of Oak Park planted 260 milkweed and nectar plants in the spring at Village Hall, Public Works, the Central Fire Station, and various traffic diverters and cul-de-sacs, said Rob Sproule, superintendent of forestry. Monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed, and nectar plants are needed so that monarchs have the energy to migrate to Mexico and the weight to get through hibernation.
The Park District of Oak Park also made a conscious effort to add native pollinator-friendly plants to many of the parks and plant beds in the community, according to Jan Arnold, executive director of the park district. The parks with these plants include Austin Gardens, Scoville Park and Mills Park.
In River Forest, monarch gardens are at each of the District 90 schools, said Julie Moller, a member of the River Forest Sustainability Commission. During a Sustainability Tour taken by eighth-graders in May, the native garden Memorial Parkway on Lake Street in River Forest was highlighted. In addition, the Healthy Lawn/Healthy Family campaign originated by Sustainability Commission member Sue Crothers promotes native plants, which are habitats for butterflies and pollinators. The campaign also discourages the use of pesticides, which harm caterpillars and butterflies because they are sensitive to the chemicals. In addition, the River Forest Sustainability Commission is working on planting more native gardens, possibly along the railroad tracks, Moller said.
Besides governmental bodies, regional organizations are also involved in supporting monarch habitat. West Cook Wild Ones sold more than 100 monarch kits during its spring plant sale, which contained milkweed and other plants monarchs need. A portion of the proceeds went to local schools. West Cook Wild Ones and Green Community Connections collaborated to offer green block parties during the summer, which featured information on monarchs and what residents can do to help them. The Interfaith Green Network also took a lead role in hosting a Native Garden Tour spotlighting many beautiful gardens designed with the kind of plants that support monarchs and many other beneficial pollinators. The Trailside Museum of Natural History at Thatcher Woods in River Forest recently held a celebration highlighting Migrating Monarchs. In Chicago, Field Museum of Natural History hosts an Urban Monarch Initiative to share resources on how to help the monarchs.
Citizens can take action to help the monarchs by planting milkweed and nectar plants that are native to the area, caring for their lawns organically to avoid harming monarchs, becoming a citizen scientists by monitoring monarchs in the area, and educating others about how they can help. Those who do not have the space to grow native plants in their own yards can find volunteer opportunities to plant native plants in the community by contacting the Oak Park Conservatory or West Cook Wild Ones. Each person’s effort adds momentum to the growing movement to restore the monarch population.
Said Orlando, "Amidst this climate and environmental crisis, it's a joy to witness something we can and are doing to revive nature."