The Illinois Department of Transportation has undertaken a committed and purposed effort to alter mowing policies with the desired outcome being improved habitat for the Monarch butterfly, which is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing as an Endangered Species. IDOT’s plan is worth recognizing and considering as an example for other mowing situations. IDOT’s request to other landowners is to try not to “help” mow. If it isn’t mowed, it’s likely because it’s being left on purpose. IL Corn is part of a collaborative effort with other entities, including IDOT, that are pulling together a suggested conservation plan to keep the Monarch from being listed as an Endangered Species.
The following comes directly from IDOT:
To help revive the shrinking populations of the monarch butterfly and other pollinators, the Illinois Department of Transportation is adjusting its mowing routine along state highways this spring and summer. The approach, part of IDOT’s overall effort to encourage green and sustainable practices in all its programs and projects, will help to re-establish types of plants that are food sources for bees, butterflies and other insects that are native to Illinois.
“As one of the largest landowners in the state, IDOT appreciates its tremendous responsibility to act as stewards of the environment,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. “This simple change in our maintenance obligations will have little impact on the traveling public, but will give a big assist to Mother Nature at no cost to the state.”
Although their numbers are on the decline, pollinators play a vital role in agriculture and the state’s ecosystem by fertilizing and aiding in the reproduction of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and seeds. The official state insect of Illinois since 1975, the monarch butterfly is at risk of being declared endangered, with a population that’s declined by 80 percent the last 10 years.
Starting in May, IDOT will only mow 15 feet of right of way beyond the edge of the roadway. Exceptions will be made in certain areas to preserve sightlines for motorists and to prevent the spread of invasive plant species.
Prior to this initiative, mowing widths varied by location. By reducing the amount of land being mowed, IDOT hopes to encourage the growth of critical plant species, such as milkweed, the only food source for monarch caterpillars. In the coming months, IDOT will be monitoring roadsides to determine if the approach is working.
In recent months, IDOT has taken other measures to restore native habitat along state highways, including a prairie restoration project on U.S. 45 near Champaign.