After a year of upheaval and uncertainty, students on the Brooks Earth Action Team (the BEAT) are taking action to create hope for a better future among the citizens of Oak Park. Their mission: declare 2021 “The Year of the Butterfly” to educate and inspire people to plant habitats for monarchs and other species of butterflies whose populations are threatened.
In the proclamation the Village of Oak Park Board of Trustees adopted on Feb. 8, the students wrote: “Butterflies have been a symbol of peace, hope and good fortune in many countries and cultures for a long time; they are iconic in beauty and they bring wildlife even to dense cities; and their story of transformation from a land-bound caterpillar to a free-flying butterfly is an inspiration for all of us ... butterflies as a symbol of hope and immortality can inspire us to keep going through a difficult time; as a symbol of beauty, they can remind us that the smallest things are also important; as a symbol of transformation, they remind us that things can get better.”
The idea to involve the entire community in this effort came about when the students learned that Monarch butterfly populations are at “endangered species” levels, but will not be listed this year as endangered species because Fish and Wildlife Services lack the resources to implement any programs. This year also marks the launch of the “Illinois Monarch Action Plan”, a multi-pronged approach to monarch conservation created by the Illinois Monarch Project. Membership includes a statewide cross section of stake-holders, including educational institutions, park-districts, agricultural organizations, government natural resource agencies, nonprofits and others.
Monarchs need people to plant more milkweed, the only plant their caterpillars can eat. And all Illinois butterfly species can benefit from a community-wide effort to include native flowers, grasses and shrubs in the yards of homes, businesses and churches. Educating people about the host plants for caterpillars and the nectar plants for the butterflies, as well as teaching people how to “leave the leaves” where many butterfly species overwinter, became a top priority for the students and they knew they wanted to spread the message as much as possible
Many community environmental groups have joined with the students in the BEAT to plan events throughout the year to plant butterfly habitat and educate citizens. West Cook Wild Ones, Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory, the Interfaith Green Network, and the Oak Park and River Forest Public Libraries, Wonderworks Children’s Museum, the OPRF High School Eco Club, Dominican University, and Trailside museum are some of the organizations participating in the effort to transform Oak Park and River Forest into sister villages full of butterfly-friendly yards and parks in this, the Year of the Butterfly.