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Tolling Points

Illinois Tollway Will Have Butterflies on its Shoulder

By: 
Bill Cramer

The monarch butterfly is Illinois’ state insect. So as evidence mounted that the monarch is threatened by declining habitats, it was a smart, environmentally friendly and symbolic gesture for the Illinois Tollway to step up and take action.

Late last month, the Chicago Tribune reported on an innovative partnership between the Illinois Tollway and the Natural Resources Defense Council to plant milkweed along 286 miles of roadway, including suburban areas of interstate highways 88, 90, and 294.

Milkweed “is the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs. It's also what the caterpillar eats for about two weeks until it's ready to form a chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly,” the Tribune explained.

A Butterfly on Your Shoulder

Judging by the coverage of the Tollway Authority’s unanimous decision, this was one decision that came straight from the heart.

“When I was a kid about 50-some years ago, I just remembered how prolific the monarch butterflies were,” said Aurora, IL Mayor and Tollway board member Tom Weisner. “If you got real lucky, one would land on your shoulder.”

Now, those butterflies will be showing up on a different kind of shoulder. And far from adding to the Tollway’s landscaping budget, Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said the decision would actually reduce mowing costs.

Milkweed Has Been Disappearing

“Monarch populations have been dwindling in large part because milkweeds have been disappearing from the Midwest due to the widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup, on industrial corn and soy farms,” wrote NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner on the organization’s Switchboard blog.

A generation ago, Illinois schoolteachers would pick monarch caterpillars from milkweed plants, so their students could watch them transform. “Those little caterpillars are getting harder to find these days,” Lehner said. “That's why [NRDC is] working with the toll board to help restore Illinois' once-plentiful monarch habitat, not only along roadsides but also on wetland sites the authority helps maintain.”

NRDC is also working on milkweed programs with the Wisconsin and Minnesota departments of transportation, pointing to an opportunity for other highway operators to get onboard. (Hat tip to Toll Roads News for first pointing us to this story.)

photo credit: _PHO7638 via photopin (license)

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