Local Editorials | Northwest Herald

Act now to save the beloved – and endangered - monarch butterfly

There are few creatures in nature that inspire awe as deeply as a butterfly.

As children, we are fascinated by their metamorphosis and delighted by the patterns of their wings. As we grow older, we pause when they flutter by, admiring their grace, envying their freedom and marveling at their gift of flight.

It’s hard to imagine, then, a world without the monarch butterfly. Our yards and prairies would be far less enchanting places.

Yet, this sad scenario inched closer to reality this week when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the migrating monarch to its “red list” and categorized it as “endangered.”

That puts the monarch – Illinois’ state insect – just two steps from extinction.

Threats to the species include habitat loss, pesticides and climate change.

The numbers vary. The eastern population of monarchs, seen here in Illinois, declined by 84% from 1996 to 2014, according to IUCN, though one local volunteer group has not noted a significant drop here in the suburbs. The western monarch population is at greater risk, the Daily Herald’s Jenny Whidden reported recently, having dropped from as many as 10 million to fewer than 2,000 between the 1980s and 2021.

That’s disturbing, but it’s also a call to action. Local groups are working to protect the monarch butterfly, and we can help with that mission.

To do that, we must begin in our own back yards.

Restoring natural areas and bringing native plants to our gardens help all pollinators, but one plant – milkweed – is crucial to the monarch. Planting milkweed will draw butterflies to our yards and help nurture the species. But it’s important to select a milkweed native to our region and to do a little research on the best times and places to plant.

The rewards are clear.

And instead of turning to pesticides to keep bugs from eating our favorite flowers, we need to seek out eco-friendly solutions to protect the monarchs and other species.

Lonnie Morris of the DuPage Monarch Project summed up the challenge for Whidden.

“What is really at stake here is losing a piece of a system,” she said. “Every insect, every plant, even all the things that live in the soil that we don’t see, they all play an important role in creating a healthy ecosystem. When things start disappearing, the system starts to break down.”

It’s our job to do as much as we can – as soon as we can – to keep that from happening.

The Daily Herald