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The St. Louis City Hall Milkweeds for Monarchs butterfly garden, including butterfly weed and purple coneflowers for pollinators. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Louis.

Planting a Future for Monarchs

The monarch’s annual fall migration is one of the longest wildlife journeys in the world. Flying anywhere from 50 to 250 miles per day and up to a total of 3,000 miles to Mexico, their final destination, monarchs need places to rest and recharge throughout their voyage.

“We know that as much as nature needs people, people need nature -- even more so in an urban environment. Our Milkweeds for Monarchs project aims to help people experience biodiversity where they live, work, learn and play. In turn, we hope people will enjoy benefits of connecting with nature, such as improved health and well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and enhanced educational outcomes,” said Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis.

As monarch populations have dwindled, the public has taken notice. For St. Louis, Missouri, the movement to restore monarchs is representative of something much bigger - a movement to conserve all that comes with this beautiful butterfly - habitat, prairie flowers, healthy pollinator populations and thriving urban communities. St. Louis saw this as an opportunity to offer monarchs much needed habitat, and that these patches of butterfly garden sprinkled throughout the city, could also double in benefit for the public to enjoy.

Monarch migration. Photo courtesy of Johanna Madjedi/Creative Commons
Monarch migration. Photo courtesy of Johanna Madjedi/Creative Commons.

During migration, monarchs rely on the wildflowers and milkweed associated with prairie habitat and tallgrass prairie, particularly in Kansas and Iowa, and on both sides of the 1-35 corridor. Tallgrass prairie once covered this vast stretch of the American landscape for miles upon miles. Home to many iconic North American species including bison, prairie-chicken, prairie dogs, grassland birds and the monarch butterfly, a scant less than 4 percent of original prairie habitat remains.

Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project is one city’s efforts to help recreate native habitat by building urban butterfly gardens while providing places for residents to enjoy nature. On Earth Day of 2014, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay committed to planting 50 monarch gardens, and challenged the community to plant an additional 200 monarch gardens to commemorate the city’s 250th birthday last year. The city is tracking newly-created gardens on a map, which shows more than 160 registered monarch gardens in the City of St. Louis.

To transform this geographically large migration corridor into pockets of pollinator and prairie habitat, we are supporting St. Louis and other local efforts, one garden at a time. In June, Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius and Mayor Slay joined conservation partners and the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie Landscape Conservation Cooperative to announce a joint $80,000 grant from the Service and the Cooperative in support of the St. Louis Milkweeds for Monarchs program.

Along with the 21st Century program, the $80,000 grant will enable the St. Louis Milkweeds for Monarchs program to expand into schools and neighborhoods, as well as allow the city to hire a part time coordinator and host a monarch intern, Elizabeth Ward. “It’s a terrific partnership that the city has with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Cooperative. This grant really helped the city build capacity for the program, and position it to monitor the impact of our gardens on butterflies and the wellbeing of the community,” Ward said. With the help of the grant, researchers from the Missouri Botanical Garden, the St. Louis Zoo, and the University of Missouri - St. Louis will evaluate 30 existing monarch gardens and seven urban prairie patches for both environmental and socioeconomic outcomes. This research is intended to inform cities across the nation about how to improve monarch habitat and urban conservation efforts.

With St. Louis taking the initiative to provide an urban oasis for monarchs and pollinators in a community-driven way in the middle of their migration path, it wasn't long before other metropolitan areas took notice. “We have been contacted by various cities across the nation who have reached out and want to do similar things and empower their own communities. I think a lot of people have seen positive things in Milkweeds for Monarchs and people want an initiative like this in their own area. We’re excited to get this attention and help lead by example,” said Catherine Werner, Director of Sustainability for the City of St. Louis, who oversees the Milkweeds for Monarchs program.

Mayor Slay and the City have taken a groundbreaking approach to helping restore monarch populations. In time, Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project will be one piece of a larger urban monarch initiative along the monarch’s migration route, roughly represented by the I-35 corridor, to help support pollinators and benefiting people who live, work and recreate across the nation.

To be successful in monarch conservation, we need to work across boundaries, echoing the monarch’s 3,000 mile-journey. By bringing many partners together in the effort to save monarchs, both wildlife and communities can benefit.

Lead Milkweeds for Monarchs Partners Include:

City of St. Louis and the Mayor’s Office

Eastern Tallgrass Prairie Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Missouri Botanical Garden

Missouri Department of Conservation

Missouri Prairie Foundation

Monarch Watch

St. Louis Zoo

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge

University of Missouri - St. Louis

More information on the Milkweeds for Monarchs Program is available at:https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/monarchs/

By Georgia Parham & Joanna Gilkeson
Regional Office - External Affairs

Regional Director Tom Melius helps a preschooler plant milkweed as part of the St. Louis Milkweed for Monarchs program. Photo by Georgia Parham/USFWS.

Regional Director Tom Melius helps a preschooler plant milkweed as part of the St. Louis Milkweed for Monarchs program. Photo by Georgia Parham/USFWS.

Monarch’s need places to rest and refuel, like this milkweed plant. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Monarch’s need places to rest and refuel, like this milkweed plant. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.

Pollinator gardens provide refuge for many pollinator species including bumble bees, honey bees, monarchs and other native butterflies. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

Pollinator gardens provide refuge for many pollinator species including bumble bees, honey bees, monarchs and other native butterflies. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.


 

Last updated: September 8, 2015