Teaming up to save the monarch
The intricate orange and black detail of the monarch butterfly makes it one of the most loved and recognized insects. Yet these butterflies, once a familiar sight, may be on the path toward extinction.
Due to the drastic population decline of monarch’s in the last 20 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is evaluating whether the species should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Milkweed is critical to the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly, and FWS has determined that 1.3 billion additional stems of milkweed are needed just to stabilize the eastern population of monarchs.
When Marla Westerhold, senior program manager of vegetation management at ComEd, became aware of the severity of the issue, she decided she couldn’t sit back and watch the disappearance of the iconic insect.
“When I first heard that number of 1.3 billion milkweed seeds, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. What does that mean for Illinois? What does that mean for ComEd land?” Westerhold said. “Then I thought, ComEd can help distribute 1 million seeds, an ambitious goal but a significant number.”
With ComEd’s vegetation management team, Westerhold organized a plan to distribute 1 million milkweed seeds under ComEd’s transmission lines – an ideal habitat for many species, including pollinators like the monarch butterfly.
“The land under transmission lines is a niche habitat and great for biodiversity because it’s land that won’t be developed and it’s constantly monitored,” she said. “Also, the transmission lines serve as connecters to other natural areas like forest preserves so animals can use this as a migration corridor.”
ComEd is funding the seed, and the vegetation management team is completing the planting. As of this month, they’ve planted milkweed seed in over 800 locations, across 20 counties in northern Illinois. The efforts are paying off: 78 percent of the transmission spans surveyed have contained a habitat for monarchs. ComEd is also enabling municipalities to take up the mission of protecting pollinators like the monarch by providing grants to community projects through their annual Green Region Program.
“Ecosystems are complex and not one species can sustain everything, but losing one species can impact many other things,” Westerhold said. “When we make efforts for the monarch, we are benefitting the ecosystem entirely.”
If you’re interested in helping the monarch butterfly too, FWS offers ways to contribute:
1. Create a monarch habitat at your home by planting milkweed and other native flowering plants.
2. Minimize use of chemicals in your yard.
3. Help scientists track monarchs.
4. Educate others on the plight of the monarch