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IDOT to change mowing routes to protect monarch butterflies

A monarch butterfly feeds on nectar in Deerfield. | Sun-Times files

SPRINGFIELD — Officials say they’re changing mowing routes along interstates to help protect dwindling populations of the monarch butterfly and other pollinators.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn says the agency is one of the state’s biggest landowners and has a responsibility to “act as steward of the environment.”

Starting this month, IDOT will reduce the amount of land being mowed. The idea is to encourage the growth of critical plant species like milkweed, which is a food source for monarch caterpillars. State officials will also monitor to see if the approach works.

Pollinators play a key role in agriculture and Illinois’ ecosystem by fertilizing and helping the reproduction of vegetables, fruits, flowers and seeds.

The monarch butterfly has been Illinois’ official state insect since 1975.