The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is looking to boost the population of the state's official insect, the monarch butterfly, and studies indicate the species has suffered a dramatic decline in its winter populations in Mexico.
Millions of the distinctive orange and black butterflies pass through Illinois annually during their 2,500-mile migration from Mexico to Canada, and back again.
Ann Holtrop, acting chief of the department's natural heritage division, said a recent summit of participants representing environmental interests, as well as state resources, kicked off an effort to further study the monarch's needs, then settle on a statewide plan to improve and expand the butterfly's natural habitats in Illinois.
"In terms of what it's going to take, we believe there will be some increased need in the breeding habitat, so that would be native milkweed plant," Holtrop said, adding that it will take at least a few months for researchers to study the butterfly's needs, create an action plan, then determine how much everything will cost.
"The other piece that we're really looking at is to ensure that there's an adequate food supply for all stages of the monarch migration," Holtrop said. "Getting the right mix of the nectaring plants and the food sources for the monarchs, both in the spring and the late summer, early fall, will be just as important."
Holtrop said Illinois already contains large areas of the butterfly's habitat, but that more are needed.
"We have a lot of habitat for butterflies, both breeding and nectaring habitat, and we also have a lot of what I would consider opportunities to put more habitat on the ground," Holtrop said. "Anyone can plant in their home gardens, or we can do large tracts of pollinator habitats at parks or churches or libraries, those kinds of public places."