A Mason County tree nursery is taking a lead role in the effort to protect monarch butterflies and Rusty Patched bumblebees.
Both species are pollinators whose populations are threatened by major habitat loss, among other factors. The monarch butterfly's U.S. population has declined by 90 percent in the last two decades. The Rusty Patched bumblebee was placed on the endangered species list in 2017.
The Mason State Tree Nursery in Topeka is joining forces with the Pollinator Partnership on an eight-state initiative to grow new homes for the species.
“We were already growing the native prairie material, the wildflowers and prairie grasses, so it was not much of a jump for us to get into providing pollinator habitat," said Dave Horvath, the manager of the nursery for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
It's considered a core partner in the Pollinator Partnership's "Project Wingspan," a coordinated effort to cultivate new pollinator habitats in Illinois, Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, and Michigan. Horvath said the states each lie along a major monarch butterfly migratory path.
The nursery has specialized “seed-cleaning" machines that can harvest seeds more efficiently than other methods from raw plant materials.
“We’re going to grow some plugs, and then we’re going to ship the plugs, and whatever leftover seed there is left, back to those states that collected it," Horvath said.
The goal is to use the seeds cleaned at the Mason State Tree Nursery to plant 10,000 new acres of new habitat for the butterflies and bumblebees within the next two years.
The Mason State Tree Nursery was founded in the 1930s. It is the only state-managed area of its kind in Illinois. To find out more, or how you can volunteer, click here.