Newsroom Midwest Region

Planting a Future for Monarchs

August 26, 2015

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.

Monarchs need places to rest, refuel and breed, like this wild onion plant. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.
Monarchs need places to rest, refuel and breed, like this wild onion plant. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.

 

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

 

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

Clocking in at up to 3,000 miles from start to finish, the monarch butterfly’s annual fall migration is one of the longest wildlife journeys in the world. During this time, monarchs fly anywhere from 50 to 250 miles a day from their summer breeding habitats in the U.S. and Canada, to their winter sanctuary in Mexico. To successfully cross the finish line, monarchs need places to rest and recharge along the lengthy trek. But friendly stopping points have decreased, hurting the butterfly’s population. As monarch numbers have dwindled, the public has taken notice and, in some places, started taking action.

“We know that as much as nature needs people; people need nature - even more so in an urban environment,” says Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis, Missouri. “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.”

For St. Louis, the movement to restore monarchs represents 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 that monarch restoration could benefit the public.

Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project is one city’s efforts to help re-create native habitat by building urban butterfly gardens that also offer places for residents to enjoy nature. On Earth Day 2014, Mayor Slay committed to planting 50 monarch gardens, and he 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 St. Louis.

Tallgrass prairie and its plentiful wildflowers once covered a vast stretch of the American Midwest for miles upon miles. It was home to many well-known species including bison, prairie-chicken, prairie dogs, grassland birds and the monarch butterfly. Now, though, a scant less than 4 percent of original prairie habitat remains.

To transform this geographically large migration corridor into pockets of pollinator and prairie habitat, the Service is 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 (LCC) to announce a joint $80,000 grant from the Service and the LCC in support of the St. Louis Milkweeds for Monarchs program.

The $80,000 grant has enabled the St. Louis Milkweeds for Monarchs program to expand into schools and neighborhoods, as well as 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 LCC. 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 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, benefiting people who live, work and recreate across the nation.

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