One thing that makes the iconic monarch butterfly an extraordinary insect is that their migration and population span a large geographical area and touch the lives of people across North America and beyond. To support their lifecycle they require different habitats, resources, and conservation practices across this expansive range. This creates opportunities for you and others to be a piece of this conservation puzzle and focus on improving a mixture of habitats for this imperiled insect.
In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) and all of the diverse and critical work that goes into conserving pollinators, the Monarch Joint Venture Communications Working Group and NAPPC Monarch Task Force is bringing you the “Monarch Conservation Spotlight” series. The purpose of the series is to highlight some of the impactful projects, programs and organizations working hard to address the declining trend across North American monarch populations and bring you information and resources about how you can get involved. Join us to learn more.
This month we interviewed Erin Holmes and Casey Wichmann about the Illinois Monarch Project Route 66 Monarch Flyway. The Route 66 Monarch Flyway is an initiative of the Illinois Monarch Project (IMP), the statewide collaborative committed to helping monarch butterflies thrive throughout Illinois. The Route 66 Monarch Flyway builds upon the historic and iconic Route 66 to provide a showcase for collaborative monarch habitat projects across a range of urban and rural landscapes.
What aspect of the monarch conservation puzzle would you say your project addresses and what makes it unique?
The Route 66 Monarch Flyway was inspired by the Interstate 35 Monarch Highway that runs from Texas to Minnesota. The project is unique in celebrating the cultural significance of both Route 66 and monarch butterflies in the hearts of those who live or visit in Illinois.
Where is the majority of your work taking place?
The Route 66 Monarch Flyway is a 66-mile-wide corridor that stretches predominantly north-south from Chicago to St. Louis, providing countless opportunities for habitat creation and enhancement at highway rest areas, fairgrounds, schools, backyards, and in cities and towns.
What are the primary goals/objectives of your project?
The concept of the Route 66 Monarch Flyway was introduced in the Illinois Monarch Action Plan, which was signed into action in September 2020. The Route 66 Monarch Flyway and other strategies identified in the Illinois Monarch Action Plan aim to add 150 million milkweed stems on Illinois landscapes by 2038. To achieve this goal, the IMP is engaging all-hands-on-deck by partnering with stakeholders across the agriculture, natural lands, rights-of-way, and urban sectors.
What successes have you achieved?
The Route 66 Monarch Flyway was debuted in November 2020 as part of the IMP virtual summit series to launch the Illinois Monarch Action Plan. There are a number of ongoing projects along the corridor, including:
- The northern anchor point at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
- Illinois Department of Transportation projects to remove invasive species such as common teasel and phragmites and implement conservation mowing strategies.
- Litchfield weigh station prairie restoration along a section of the original Route 66 roadbed.
- We are also working to integrate the habitats along the Route 66 Monarch Flyway with the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway’s mobile app. The mobile app currently helps travelers navigate the road but will soon indicate new and existing habits as they relate to the Flyway.
What is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is capturing all of the amazing work being done by individuals and organizations within the Route 66 Monarch Flyway and throughout Illinois.
How do you engage with your community in regard to this work?
The Route 66 Monarch Flyway Committee engages diverse partners across the state of Illinois, both to coordinate projects and also inspire others to implement habitat projects own their own at their homes, businesses, and within their communities. The Route 66 Monarch Flyway serves as an important rallying point for engagement and habitat work on the ground.
Where can readers find more information about your project?
You can find more information about the Route 66 Monarch Flyway on the IMP website and a dedicated webpage on the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway website. The Route 66 Monarch Flyway also has its own Facebook (@Route66MonarchFlyway) and Instagram (@route66monarchflyway) pages.
What is the best way to get involved in your conservation work?
You can contact the Route 66 Monarch Flyway Committee Chairs. They are Casey Wichmann, Executive Director at the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway (email@example.com) and Erin Holmes, Roadside Management Resource Specialist at the Illinois Department of Transportation (Erin.Holmes@Illinois.gov).
Alone no individual or entity can address all monarch conservation needs, but through collaborative conservation we can and will make a difference for monarchs and more. Keep following our “Monarchs Conservation Spotlight” series to hear more inspiring monarch conservation stories.
Photo Credits: Erin Holmes